Prospect Files: Felix Hernandez

By now, most Mariners fans know the name Felix Hernandez. The pitching phenom broke into the pro ranks last season with Everett at the age of 17, and was nothing short of remarkable, sporting a 7-2 record and 2.29 ERA. Statistics aside, Everett manager Pedro Grifol says there were plenty of other parts to his makeup that were equally impressive.

Position: RHP
Born: April 8, 1986
Place: Valencia, Venezuela
Height: 6-3
Weight: 170
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
How Acquired: Signed as a non-drafted free-agent by Mariners in 2002

Leave it to the young guy to show everyone who's boss. That's what Felix Hernandez did at Low-A Everett in 2003, compiling a 7-2 record and 2.29 ERA at the tender age of 17. Even more impressive was his strikeout numbers; he fanned 73 batters in 55.0 innings.

Called up to Mid-A Wisconsin at the tail end of the season, Hernandez got in two starts and continued to dominate. Though he didn't get a decision in either game, he struck out 18 batters in 14.0 innings while walking just three, and finished with a 1.93 ERA with the Timber Rattlers.

According to Everett coach Pedro Grifol, who had the privilege of observing the youngster for much of the season, the guy they are already calling "Kid K" has got it all.

"Obviously he still needs time to work on parts of his game, otherwise he'd be in the majors, but he's extremely advanced for his age," said Grifol. "He's got great poise, great composure, and electric stuff.

"My prediction is that he's going to advance through the system quickly."

Though Hernandez is one of the youngest players in professional baseball, he already seems to have a solid grasp on what being a pro is all about. On the mound and off, he is confident but not cocky. He works hard, according to Grifol, and it shows on the stat sheet and in the win column.

Blessed with three above average pitches – a fastball, curveball and a very good changeup for someone his age – the teenager commands the strike zone. That allows him to get ahead in the count, and put batters away at a regular clip.

As the season went on last year, Grifol found himself getting used to the dominance of Hernandez more with each passing game. "Once you know him and relate to him, nothing he does is a shock," said the AquaSox manager. "The only thing that was a shock was that a kid at 17 could have the stuff he has and the poise and the composure he has on the mound."

Hernandez will likely begin next season at Wisconsin as he continues his climb up the minor league ladder at a pace that Grifol figures will be very rapid.

"As far as tools and ability and competitiveness, there is no doubt in my mind that this guy would not embarrass anybody if he was in the big leagues right now in someone's bullpen," said Grifol.

Hernandez won't turn 18 until April, when he will be set to begin his second professional season in America. This time, however, he won't scoot under the radar at first and be able to burst upon the scene late. Heading into 2004, this right-hander figures to be one of the team's most prized prospects at any level of the minors.

TOOLS: Grading Scale

Fastball: 70
Hernandez pitches in the low-to-mid 90's, which allows him to overpower batters when needed. A plus-pitch indeed for te right-hander.

Curveball: 70
One of his better pitches, the curve could still improve slightly as his seven wild pitches in 55.0 innings at Everett would indicate. Hernandez keeps batters honest with his fastball and uses the curve to buckle their knees.

Change-up: 50+
Not a weakness but not as perfected as other parts of his pitching, his offspeed pitch still has room for improvement. Find a 17-year-old pitcher whose changeup doesn't still require attention.

Mound Presence: 70
His confidence approach shows here, as he rarely gets shaken or flustered on the mound. Grifol loves that about him, and raves about his maturity and knowledge of the game in this area.

Intangibles: 70
The fact that Hernandez is already as advanced as he is at the age of 17 is working in his favor here. He's a quick-learner who loves the game and will only improve with each passing season.

MLB ETA: 2007

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