He began his career as a member of Tronconero of the Venezuelan Summer League, appearing in 12 games during the 2003 season. During that season, Hernandez appeared in 12 games, making one start, but clearly struggled. In 23.1 innings of work, Hernandez posted a high earned run average of 6.94, struggling with his command. He walked 16 batters to 15 strikeouts, and had six wild pitches.
In 2004, Hernandez was moved exclusively to the bullpen, and he began to show some confidence with his stuff. He was a member of the Twins Dominican Summer League Team, and would finish the season with a 3-1 record in 24 appearances. He lowered his earned run average to 4.85, though he continued to struggle with his command, walking 37 batters in 42.2 innings of work. His 14 wild pitches were a career-high, and it was clear he needed work on his mechanics.
In 2005, Hernandez got his first taste of Gulf Coast League Baseball, and again he worked from both the bullpen and the rotation. Appearing in 13games for the GCL Twins, Hernandez had a high ERA of 5.48, making two starts along the way. He once again walked nearly a batter per inning, but his wild pitch count lowered dramatically to only three on the season. He would earn the promotion to Elizabethton this past season.
In 2006, Hernandez opened plenty of eyes, turning himself into one of the better relief pitchers in the Appalachian League. Now confident in his role out of the bullpen, Hernandez showed incredible signs of development, leading the Appalachian League with 18 saves. His 18 saves were also an organizational high, as the young right-hander earned himself a spot on the Apply League All-Star Team.
Repertoire.Fastball, Curveball, Changeup
Fastball. Hernandez's heater is definitely the strong point in his arsenal, as he has revved up radar guns to the tune of a 96 miles per hour fastball. The kid can really let it fly, and at only 20 years old, he has one of the best young fastballs in the Twins farm system. He will be challenged when he moves to full-season ball next year, but when you can rear back and throw it that hard, he should prove to give Midwest League batters fits.
Other Pitches: Many scouts I have talked to believe that Hernandez could separate himself from other prospects if he can gain more confidence, and control of his other pitches. He throws a nice curveball, which has developed over the past year, and his changeup he can throw for strikes. With a 96 MPH heater, any other pitch he throws is going to be deceptive, and that showed this past season, as Appalachian League hitters could not figure him out for most of the season. If he can harness his other pitches, than it will make his out-pitch fastball that more deadly.
Pitching. The knock on Hernandez coming into the 2006 season was that he had great stuff, but he lacked confidence and command in his pitches. Throughout his first couple of seasons with the Twins, Hernandez was a wild one, sometimes racking up more wild pitches than strikeouts it seems. However, Manager Ray Smith said, "He has been our biggest surprise this season, and really has improved his command this season." Now that he is settled in on a role, he should be able to develop that three-pitch arsenal that is so crucial for a late inning guy.
Projection. Hernandez is projected to be the closer for the Beloit Snappers in 2007, barring any unforeseen injury during the off-season. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to full-season hitting, which is quite a jump from short-season ball. Still, the Twins feel he can develop into a big-time relief pitching prospect within the organization, and with such a blazing fastball, they are sure to develop him into just that. I look for Hernandez to be one of the better late inning relievers in the system next season, and continue to grow as a pitcher both mentally, and physically.
ETA. 2010. Like any organization, the Twins have a need for some late inning relief down the road. Sure it appears that Pat Neshek will supplant Joe Nathan at some point down the line, but an arm like Hernandez will surely be looked at closely during his development. If he can continue to improve his control, he walked only nine batters last season, than Hernandez has to be looked at as a legitimate prospect. I am interested in seeing how he works on other pitches, as he prepares for the biggest jump of his professional career thus far. If all goes as planned, I see him making his Major League debut in 2010, when he will be a 24-year old fireballer.