Signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2000, Luis Hernandez has been a fixture on Atlanta Braves' prospect lists for years. With a slight 5-10 frame, Hernandez is one of the better defenders in all of the minor leagues. He's also well reputed for his bat control and ability to play small ball.
With the emergence of fellow shortstop Elvis Andrus and the off-season acquisition of Brent Lillibridge, however, the Braves felt that Hernandez was expendable and took him off of their 40-man roster this past October.
He didn't last long on the waiver wire.
The Orioles, hoping to add athleticism and defense into the upper levels of their system, put in a claim and were delighted to pick up Hernandez.
"At first, I didn't really want to leave [Atlanta], but then I got a lot of calls and saw that I was going to get a lot of opportunity and I changed my mind," Hernandez told Inside The Warehouse. "It is like starting all new, signing here."
When the Orioles added a familiar face over the off-season, it made the transition even easier.
"Chris Waters played two years with me. It made me happy because I knew somebody on the team."
Although he played the past two seasons in double-A, his success at the plate was limited. He posted a .243/.315/.311 batting line in 2005 and only improved marginally in 2006, posting a .268/.308/.329 batting line. The Orioles made the prudent decision to give him a third opportunity at the same level. The results have been mixed at the plate, but Hernandez insists that he is feeling more at home than ever before.
"I feel more comfortable about my hitting now. I know a little more about hitting every year. When I was with the Braves, maybe I hit like .240 and I know I can hit more than that; but they focused a lot more on my defense. The Orioles, they tell me ‘You can hit' and I know I am going to get the opportunities. They worked with me a lot on my hitting in spring training and it helps me be a better player."
Sitting at .254/.297/.345 after a hot April, Hernandez isn't quite where he wants to be on offense.
"Like everybody, I want to hit .300; but if I stay over .280 that is going to be great. I don't want to make too many errors and play great defense. I know I can do that, but I also want to hit .300. I know I can do that too.
The 22 year old has plenty of time to turn things around, though, and he is the first one to tell you that he is exactly where he wants to be in another sense.
"I like it here. [The Orioles] have a lot of good players and good coaches. They really work hard with you."
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com