Mike started his collegiate career Daytona Beach Community College, where he helped lead them to a conference championship in 2003; on the back of a .316 average and 54 RBI in just 45 games. After a successful freshman campaign, Hernandez moved on to Connors State College, prior to transferring to Oklahoma State for the 2005 season. Prior to joining the Cowboys, Mike posted a .307 average and six doubles in 24 games for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League.
Once at OSU, Mike jumped right into the mix and was a fixture in the middle of their lineup throughout the spring of 2005. The season ended with Mike logging a .299/.356/.539 line, boosted by six home runs and 31 RBI in 44 Division I games.
Mike has been drafted three times, but somehow managed not to take the MLB draft as his route to the professional ranks. Initially, he was drafted out of Xaverian High School in New York, in the 27th round in 2002 by the Kansas City Royals. After his first junior college season, he was again drafted by the Royals (20th round) as a DFE candidate. After turning that down, the Dodgers snagged him as a DFE choice in 2004 in the 45th round. In the end, the Tigers signed Hernandez out of an open tryout in Florida prior to the 2006 season.
After spending some time in extended spring training, Mike burst on the scene with the West Michigan Whitecaps, posting an amazing .417/.462/.583 line through his first nine games. He was solid throughout the remainder of the season, earning MiLB.com Player of the Week honors on two occasions. The highlight of the season was easily the two occasions where Mike hit for the cycle, a Midwest League first for a single season. At season's end, Michael was ranked 9th in the league in slugging (.461).
Following a successful debut campaign, Mike made the logical progression to High-A Lakeland for the 2007 season; and his hitting ways followed him there. Mike mashed Florida State league pitching into August before a promotion to Double-A Erie pulled him away. That promotion did not stop him from trying for fourth in the FSL in home runs (20), ranking second in RBI (87), and sixth in slugging (.478). In only 18 games for Erie, Hernandez managed two doubles, four home runs and 19 RBI, bringing his season totals for home runs and runs batted in to 24 and 106, respectively.
If there is one thing that could turn Mike from an average prospect to a serious one, it's his bat. He puts together top quality at-bats time, after time; making pitchers work for their outs against him. Mike was praised by one Florida State League manager as an advanced hitter with the ability to hit to all fields at any time in the game. He can take a pitch in any location, of any variety, and drive it to all parts of the park. Mike has extremely quick hands and strong wrists that allow him to snap the bat through the zone, smoking line drives everywhere. He has begun adding loft to his swing and he projects for added home run power down the road. Through this transformation, he has still maintained his ability to make consistent hard contact that should allow him to hit for average as well.
Mike is a streaky offensive player, who is capable of carrying a team for extended stretches. When he is hot, the streakiness isn't such a bad thing, but when he goes cold, he's ice cold. Hernandez will need to gain some additional consistency to truly become a legitimate outfield prospect.
For all Mike's prowess at the plate, he's got to make some strides defensively. He's improved some as a pro, but he still needs to work on his routes and reactions to balls off the bat. While his strong, accurate arm may be best suited for right, his range and instincts may keep him in left field long term. In his brief pro career, Mike has demonstrated some versatility, manning first base and both outfield corners. His baseball IQ lends to his versatility, and should allow him to continue developing in the field.
You will rarely see Mike working as a vocal leader on the field, but he will lead by example through his effort and refusal to lose. Mike's makeup is his one truly plus attribute. He is a confident player, with a burning desire to succeed in baseball; and that lends well to his demeanor on the field.
Overall, Mike currently projects as an offensively minded fourth outfielder, but with improved defensive skills and increased consistency, he could become a much more formidable outfield prospect.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A+
Mike has had conditioning issues in the past, but since turning pro, he's been in tremendous physical shape and with his desire to be a Major League player, it looks like things should continue along that line.
After a promising cameo in the Eastern League to close the 2007 season, Hernandez was poised to return to Erie as one of their key offensive contributors. However, the Tigers recent trade for former Rangers' right-hander Armando Galarraga has sent Hernandez packing. Hernandez will likely open the season with Texas' Double-A affiliate (Frisco) in the Texas League.
Mike should have the opportunity to distinguish himself during the 2008 season in what is likely to be a big year for him in his developmental cycle. If he can make strides with his consistency, Mike could emerge as a formidable prospect with a bat that could carry him to the Major Leagues by the end of the 2009 season.
There is little doubting Ciriaco's overall potential, and he responded well – though not statistically – to the challenge of being assigned to West Michigan. The Tigers still have high hopes for his future, and many scouts remain high on his ability to adjust and become a legit prospect. Expect to see some signs of progress from Ciriaco this season, and in conjunction with those signs, expect to see him moving up this list by mid-season.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.