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2019 Red Sox top prospect voting: Darwinzon Hernandez looks for his path

The exciting southpaw has electric stuff, but his future isn’t entirely clear

Darwinzon Hernandez
Kelly O’Connor;

We are on to the second spot on our community top prospect list, and as we mentioned last time things are somewhat split among the experts. Michael Chavis ran away with our top spot, which was understandable if even a bit surprising, but I figured the second-place vote would be a bloodbath. This wasn’t as much of a blowout as the top spot was, but one player clearly ran away with the community’s vote. Taking the second spot on our list is left-handed pitcher Darwinzon Hernandez, who received 18 of 44 votes (41 percent).

The Red Sox have a history with big-name acquisitions on the Latin American market over the last decade or so, but Hernandez doesn’t fit into that tradition. He was, instead, a great diamond-in-the-rough kind of find from the scouting department, signing for just $7,500 out of Venezuela back in 2013 as a 16-year-old. As one would assume from someone signed for so little, Hernandez didn’t have a whole lot of fanfare early on in his career. The lefty spent his first two professional seasons down in the DSL, putting up good ERAs in both seasons but walking more batters than he struck out in his first season, which he spent mostly as a reliever.

Hernandez moved stateside in 2016 as a full-time starter at this point, and this is when his strikeout stuff started to take off and people started to take notice. In 14 starts with the Spinners he allowed more runs than you’d like but struck out 58 batters in 48 innings, leading to him getting the call for his first full season in 2017. Hernandez didn’t disappoint in that year and really put himself on the map in 2017. In 103 13 innings in Greenville, the southpaw again put up an ERA over 4.00 (just barely at 4.01), but he struck out over ten batters per nine innings for the second straight year while showing more consistent control.

That brought us into the 2018 season, when Hernandez was heading to Salem to join a rotation along with guys like Bryan Mata, Tanner Houck and others that was supposed to be the most exciting part of the farm system. Things didn’t really work out as hoped for that group, but Hernandez was solid-to-good for most of the year. He put up the best ERA he put since his days in the DSL with a 3.56 mark and also struck out over 11 batters per nine innings for the first time in his professional career. The walk rate regressed a bit again, which was a concern, but as a 21-year-old held his own in High-A and earned a late-season promotion to Portland. He pitched out of the bullpen for six appearances there to end the year before pitching more out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League. It was out in the desert where his national stock really started to sky rocket. Pitching for Mesa, 11 of his first 12 outs were strikeouts and in all he struck out a whopping 24 batters in just 11 13 innings, impressing any scout who got to see him.

Hernandez is kind of a classic case in terms of scouting, but that doesn’t mean he’s easy to figure out. On the one hand, his stuff is undeniable. He’s an imposing presence on the mound, listed at 6’2” 235 pounds, and he has the stuff to match. Hernandez works largely off a big fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and get up to the high-90s in shorter stints. Along with the heat, he has a couple of breaking balls, the better of which is a slower curveball, and he’s working on a changeup to go with all of that. The stuff is there for him to start, assuming the development of his changeup continues. The issue, though, is the control. The southpaw has had major walk issues throughout his career, putting together just two seasons with fewer than five walks per nine innings and never getting below four. It’s really hard to succeed as a starter like that, which is why most think he’ll end up in the bullpen. It’s easier to stabilize walk rates in that role, and as we’ve seen with guys like Craig Kimbrel and Matt Barnes you can succeed even with walk rates around 4-5 per nine innings if your stuff is good enough.

Looking ahead to the coming season, Hernandez was placed on the 40-man roster this past winter as a Rule 5 eligible player, so he could make his major-league debut this year. He should begin his age-22 season in Portland, and they have already said he is going to start the year in the rotation. That makes sense, because if they can get something to click with his control he’ll be a legitimate weapon in that role. There’s a chance he sticks it out, but I would probably bet on a similar trajectory to Travis Lakins, who converted to the bullpen in May. Hernandez has better stuff than Lakins, so if that is the case I think he could be up in the majors at some after the All-Star break, with a chance of him just forcing his way up even earlier than that.

Here is our list so far.

  1. Michael Chavis
  2. Darwinzon Hernandez

Now, you can head down into the comments and vote for the number three. As a reminder, to do this you go down below and find the comment from me corresponding with the player for whom you’d like to vote. When you find said player, just click the “rec” button, and that will count your vote. To do this, you will need to be logged in as a member of the site. If you’d like to vote for a player who is not listed, just leave a comment saying “Vote for ___ here” and I’ll rec the comment to count your vote. Until next time...