Padres Prospect Interview: Brian Hernandez

Brian Hernandez was the odd-man out last year after being selected by the San Diego Padres in the 19th-round of the 2006 MLB Draft.

Instead of beginning the season in Eugene, he was shipped to the Arizona Rookie League after a minicamp in June.

He took the move in stride, understanding the Padres had to share the wealth with the catching and felt he would even get more playing time in the desert.

Plus, there was a sidebar that proved to be valuable – Hernandez is quite adept at communicating in Spanish and that trait served him well with an Arizona club dominated by Dominican Summer League imports.

This year, he was rewarded for his service and given the nod in full-season Fort Wayne, He rebounded from a dismal April at the plate to hit .280 in May but his primary focus is on his work behind the dish.

What was the off-season approach like for you coming off a pretty long year with college and the Arizona Rookie League? Was there a goal in mind to improve upon?

Brian Hernandez: I was working on my swing. When I got here last year, Rob Deer noticed I was doing a little something with my hands so I wanted to make sure I corrected that. Try to drive balls a little better – not necessarily to hit them out but to hit the gaps. And then just trying to remain quick defensively.

Does that also change the flight path of your swing and throw off your timing as a result?

Brian Hernandez: It does. It takes time to get used to and I have reverted to old habits. It does change a little bit but it does allow me to get to the ball quicker – so the whole timing thing too. Before it took a little longer and I had to start earlier so it takes some time.

You have your old habits – how difficult is it to introduce something new that probably has been with you since high school or longer?

Brian Hernandez: It is hard. It is something new and you have been doing something for so long. When you work at it and do it everyday you start to get used to it and it is good to get at bats because that is really the only way. In the game you don't try and think about it – so you are doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing and the coaches help us out a lot to figure out which.

How much does your ability to speak Spanish help you when you are working with the different pitchers in the system?

Brian Hernandez: It is good being able to communicate with both Latin guys and American guys. I find myself translating for guys and my Spanish isn't wonderful, but it gets the job done. It is nice to be able to go out to the mound with whomever is pitching and actually have a conversation that means something – that they understand and you know they understand. I may go out there and say something in English and get that look so I can say it in Spanish and we are on the same page. It gets us on the same page and builds relationships, which is good.

Do you think the Latin kids prefer working with you to someone who does not speak Spanish as well? It has to aid them – and likely adds confidence into the pitches you call.

Brian Hernandez: I don't know, maybe. I am sure it is more comfortable for them because if they want me to do something different they can come up and tell me. Quite possibly but I do not know for sure. I hope so.

I was out in Instructs the day you got hurt and seemed to catch your spike. What happened there?

Brian Hernandez: I came out to get a ball from the outfield and my foot got caught on the lip from home plate to the infield. My cleat got stuck and I strained my MCL. It is perfect now.

What was the rehab process like and how did it affect you?

Brian Hernandez: Most of the rehab I did at Instructs since it happened in the third game and I was here for five weeks. There are certain things – squatting I didn't do till later on.

What do you feel like you have to improve upon defensively at this stage of your development?

Because in college we didn't get to call our own games, getting an idea of who the hitters are and what they are doing, and looking for certain things – at their back foot, where their hands are positioned so you know how to throw to guys, and then being a little quicker on throws to second base. Improving overall because there is always room but mostly my footwork and calling the game.

One of the things that most people don't realize is how often move around the plate – not only side-to-side but also up and back.

Brian Hernandez: The thing is you have to try and do it subtly because every team is looking for it. You can steal pitches from the pitcher and you can just as easily steal pitches from the catchers. Definitely on breaking balls, sliders, you try and move up as quickly as possible and on fastballs stay back. It varies pitch to pitch. It also varies on where the guy stands in the box too.

Are you ever worried about being hit by a backswing?

Brian Hernandez: You get used to it.

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