In the early days of Yoel Hernandez' career as a professional, he was a starter. He was giving them solid numbers and pitched 331 innings over two seasons in the minors, but the Phillies decided that he was better suited to be a reliever. Plus, they had a number of quality starters coming through the organization and needed some help in their minor league bullpens. Hernandez didn't balk - no pun intended - and made the switch with no complaints. It didn't go easily at first, but eventually, Hernandez filled into the role and now has pitched just over 89 innings in relief at the AAA level over three different seasons. In other words, enough already. The guy is ready for a job in the Phillies bullpen.
This winter, Hernandez put up very strong numbers pitching in his native Venezuela. Coming into camp though, he's somewhat of an afterthought. Instead of looking at Hernandez, the Phillies appear more interested in other pitchers like Robinson Tejeda to fill a job that Hernandez could fill. Not to take anything away from Tejeda, but he could be more valuable to the Phillies in a starting role, even if it's providing insurance from AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, which would give Hernandez a better shot at the Phillies bullpen this spring. The bottom line is that Hernandez is good and looks ready to handle major league hitters.
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Acquired: Signed by the Phillies as an amateur free agent on November 5, 1998.
Repertoire: Hernandez has the basic compliment of pitches and gets good movement on them. His velocity has been slowly getting better and better during his career and he has been able to put a mile or two extra on his fastball since moving to the bullpen.
Pitching: While Hernandez posts good walk / strikeout ratios and gets a good number of strikeouts, he doesn't live and die with throwing pitches past opposing hitters. Instead, he focuses on location and keeping the ball down in the zone. In his minor league career, he has given up an average of just one homerun every 20.7 innings, which is phenomenal and is another reason why the Phillies should give serious consideration to taking him north with the club.
Projection: After two unsuccessful and short auditions at the AAA level, Hernandez returned to Scranton in 2005 and pitched well, showing that he can indeed pitch at that level. He turns 26 in April and is ready for a major league assignment. It's likely though, if you believe the talk coming out of Clearwater, that he'll be back at Scranton for much of the season. Of course, things can always change and he could be with the club when camp breaks or join the club at some point during the season.
Comparison: Hernandez and Ryan Madson have had some similarities in their career paths and throw very similar pitches. Both were starters early in their careers and Madson moved to the bullpen when the Phillies thought they had to find a way to keep him with the club. Now, with Madson moving back to the rotation, Hernandez could be the next Madson-type pitcher to emerge from the minor league system.