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Evaluating the Prospects - Darwinzon Hernandez

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He was just sent back to the minor leagues.

Boston Red Sox Photo Day Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In case you missed it, we evaluated Michael Chavis earlier in the month, and now we’re moving on to the number two OTM Red Sox Prospect, Darwinzon Hernandez.

Hernandez capped off a magnificent spring at just the right time for the Red Sox organization. With the bullpen looking like a total disaster in the eyes of many fans going into the new season, there was some speculation that Hernandez would make for a sneaky surprise addition to the bullpen. The other day, however, he was sent back down to Portland to continue working on his command/control, his biggest weakness as we stand now.

Boston Red Sox Photo Day
Colten Brewer made the OD roster over Hernandez (along with Hector Velazquez)
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Hernandez was signed by the Red Sox out of Venezuela in August of 2013, but he didn’t break into the spotlight until 2016. He started his pro career in the Dominican Summer League, and spent two years pitching for the two different rosters. He would get his first earnest attempt at starting in 2015, and it was here where he began striking people out. It was here, at age 18, that Hernandez began establishing what would end up becoming a minor league career norm for him: striking a ton of batters out, walking the ones he didn’t strike out, and overall getting results at every level.

It was following his 2016 season (in which he pitched at Lowell), that Hernandez attracted more mainstream attention, as he first ranked in MLB.com’s top 30 Red Sox prospects list. Back then, their blurb on him read as such:

Hernandez’s fastball usually operates at 91-94 mph and reaches 96 with some late life. His secondary pitches are works in progress, with the most promising a curveball that shows good depth at times and has the potential to become a solid offering.

Hernandez’s changeup needs significant work, and his control and command require even more refinement. There’s some effort in his delivery and he doesn’t repeat it consistently, which hampers his ability to throw strikes. If he can’t make the improvements needed to become a starter, he could become an effective lefty reliever.

Hernandez continued through the system, following the same trend he’d established at age 18 in the Dominican Summer League, laying waste to Greenville in 2017, and most recently Salem last season, before earning a trip to Portland for his first taste of high minors action.

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four
Craig Kimbrel is still without a job. This is a huge hole in the Red Sox bullpen.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It was during this time frame that I found myself watching Hernandez more. I’d liked him prior to the 2018 campaign, but I became increasingly enamored with his potential the more I followed his season. In Portland, he pitched as a reliever, only coming in for an inning or two at a time. Still, he showed an ability to hang with more advanced hitters, making his future — whether it be as a starter or as a reliever — more promising.

The flaws in Hernandez’s game are obvious, and that’s the way it has been for his entire minor league career: he walks too many batters, and he doesn’t pitch efficiently enough to get through six innings reliably. Also, he hit 14 batters in 107 innings (a rate that has seemingly only gone up each year), which won’t fly at the major league level. Last season, only six MLB pitchers hit 14 batters - Lucas Giolito, Rick Porcello, Charlie Morton, Cole Hamels, Jakob Junis, and Chris Sale - and while nearly every pitcher here has had success (sorry Giolito), they also did it in significantly more than 107 innings.

That’s not to over shadow what makes Hernandez appealing, particularly as a potential mid-season call-up for the bullpen. To put it simply, he has incredible stuff. FanGraphs has him as their number two prospect in the system behind only Triston Casas, with the following blurb about his talent:

We have the scowling Hernandez projected into a relief role and think his stuff is on par with many of the best lefty relievers in baseball... [fast forward to the end] On stuff, he has a chance to be a high-leverage arm, and one of the top 30 or so relievers in baseball.

While many still hope Hernandez ends up a quality starting pitcher (Robbie Ray could be a good comparison here for Hernandez, as both strike out tons of guys and have command/control issues), his best road to Boston is probably in relief, where there’s a clear need following the losses of Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel. In the rotation, there will probably be exactly one spot up for grabs over the next three years, as Chris Sale, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, and Eduardo Rodriguez all occupy slots in said rotation. Meanwhile, in the bullpen, his greatest obstacle will be convincing Alex Cora and Dave Dombrowski that he can be more effective than Hector Velázquez or Brian Johnson. With Steven Wright’s suspension, his road probably gets even easier there.

Boston Red Sox Photo Day
This man signed an extension. A big one. Woo!
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Hernandez stands, in either case, to be the most likely prospect to benefit the Red Sox in the coming season, and as such, is probably one of the least likely to be traded in the system.

We explained grades last time, but here’s the handy link again. When it comes to pitchers, the grading scale is similar, but instead of tracking hit tools, power, and such, they track fastballs, breaking balls, and general control.

Poll

What grade would you give Darwinzon Hernandez for his control/command?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    <35
    (9 votes)
  • 21%
    35
    (15 votes)
  • 39%
    40
    (27 votes)
  • 20%
    45
    (14 votes)
  • 5%
    >45
    (4 votes)
69 votes total Vote Now

MLB.com rates Hernandez as having a 70 fastball, 55 curveball, 55 slider, 50 changeup, 40 control, and 50 overall. This means they view the fastball as “plus plus”, with two above average breaking balls, and an average changeup. These all look favorable when you consider that Jose Berrios had a similar set of grades back in 2014, with the caveat of having better control. A 50 overall corresponds to #4 starting pitcher or a high set up/low level closer type of pitcher. Though it’s possible a switch to the pen ends up raising his overall grade.

FanGraphs, for their part, has him at a Future Value of 70 fastball, 60 curveball, 50 changeup, 45 command, and 45 overall value. The big difference here, obviously, is that they project Hernandez to instead only be #5 type SP or low level set up man (though the bar is razor thin at that point when you try to debate what a #4 is as opposed to a #5). Additionally, they believe his curveball will blossom into a second plus tool for Hernandez, which, if he ends up in relief, will be a truly nasty weapon to turn to.

Where do you have Darwinzon Hernandez, and which path do you think he should take to the major-league club?

Poll

What grade would you give to Darwinzon Hernandez’s overall potential as a prospect?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    <45
    (4 votes)
  • 5%
    45
    (4 votes)
  • 13%
    50
    (11 votes)
  • 35%
    55
    (28 votes)
  • 18%
    60
    (15 votes)
  • 22%
    >60
    (18 votes)
80 votes total Vote Now