David Hernandez is no stranger to scouting directors. He was drafted out of high school in 2003 by the Colorado Rockies in the 29th round. The following year, he was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 34th round, before finally being drafted and signed by the Orioles in the 16th round of the 2005 draft. He was originally seen as a potential draft-and-follow candidate, but the Orioles determined he was signable immediately and jumped at the chance. He attended Consumnes River Junior College in California, where he set the school record for strikeouts as a freshman. He was regarded as a potential top ten round talent by 2005, but the leverage he held as a draft-eligible sophomore and his past reluctancy to sign made him available late in the draft. Hernandez ended up signing with the Orioles for roughly 5th round money.
Hernandez has had a solid, if unspectacular, season with the Delmarva Shorebirds. His 4.15 ERA is propped up by his inconsistent command (71 walks in 145.3 innings). His groundball tendencies are middle of the pack, but his strikeout rate really stands out. With 154 strikeouts in 145.3 innings, the 21 year old righthander is fourth in the South Atlantic League and has shown an impressive ability to miss bats. If a pitching prospect is only going to stand out in one area, Hernandez has picked the right one. Orioles officials will be patient with the rest of his development, provided he continues displaying his strong strikeout tendencies.
Despite the fact that his 2.91 ERA is over two runs lower than his road ERA, Hernandez's peripherals have been consistent across multiple ballparks. He has held lefties to a lower batting average than righties (.231 vs. .250) as well as a lower slugging percentage (.354 vs. .405), but has walked each in nearly equal amounts while lefties account for less than 40% of his opponents faced. His monthly splits have been remarkably consistent, aside from some command issues in August (22 walks in 29.1 innings), which is not uncommon in a player's first full professional season.
Hernandez's most recent start was in the first game of a double-header on September 4th. He was consistently at 89-92 MPH with his fastball and has touched 94 MPH earlier in the season. His slider showed moments of being a plus pitch, but he struggled to consistently command it. His changeup lagged behind his fastball as well but, like his slider, it showed moments of promise. Hernandez is able to repeat his arm action well for a pitcher in the South Atlantic League. But, as his statistics indicate, most of his problems stem from an inability to command his off-speed pitches from inning to inning, sometimes even pitch to pitch.
So far, the Orioles are happy with the return on their investment for this particular 16th round draft pick. Hernandez has shown all the promise that made the Orioles spend above slot money to sign him immediately. He has to develop more consistency, which is hardly uncommon for someone that just turned 21 years old, but he'll get plenty of chances. Hernandez should be a candidate for steady level-to-level improvement over the coming years and fans can look forward to watching his progress as part of Frederick's rotation in 2007. With the relative wealth of young, major-league-ready arms ahead of Hernandez in the Orioles system, the organization can afford to be patient with his intriguing potential. Given his promising three pitch arsenal, it wouldn't be surprising to see him eventually emerge as a mid-rotation starter for the Orioles.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com