As a travel Thursday, there aren’t a ton of major league games on the schedule for tonight. However, there is one that should be worth watching, and it will take place in Baltimore, where the Tigers are in town to take on the Orioles. Making his major league debut, David Hernandez will be starting for the O’s.
Hernandez is one of those divisive prospects who puts up numbers that dwarf his physical abilities. His numbers, especially the strikeout rates, are ridiculous. In 2007, he posted a 10.4 K/9 in High-A ball. Last year, he put up a 10.6 K/9 in Double-A. This year, he’s up to 12.46 K/9 in Triple-A. He’s consistently been at the top of the league leaderboards in strikeouts at every rung of the ladder.
However, the reaction from scouts has been relatively mild. He was a 16th round pick in 2005, and even with his minor league dominance, Baseball America left him out of the Orioles Top 10 prospects over the winter. The concerns have mostly centered around questionable command of a four seam fastball and a lack of a third pitch. His slider is definitely an out pitch, and it’s the reason for his crazy strikeout rate, but heavy reliance on a breaking ball will get scouts talking bullpen very quickly.
In some ways, the Hernandez discussions are similar to the ones that surrounded Yusmeiro Petit as he rose through the minor leagues. He also ran up big numbers with stuff that didn’t match it, and created a divide between the statistical and scouting communities. The jury may still be out on Petit to some degree, but clearly, the scouts were more correct about his abilities than the numbers were. However, a good chunk of Petit’s dominance came in the low minors, and his strikeout rates decrease as he faced harder competition. Hernandez’s numbers have done the exact opposite.
It’s worth noting that Hernandez has significantly better velocity than Petit as well, sitting 90-93 on a regular basis. He’s not a low velocity guy who is just tricking minor leaguers with junk. He’s got a major league fastball and a knockout slider. He’s not John Stephens.
I’m really looking forward to seeing Hernandez pitch against big leaguers, and the Pitch F/x data should be pretty fun to look at as well. If you’re looking for some entertaining baseball tonight, check out the O’s-Tigers, and see what side of the Hernandez fence you come down on.
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