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April 17, 2012 at 12:20 PM

The Book: Chris Hernandez

LHP Chris Hernandez
Date: April 13, 2012
Team: Portland Sea Dogs

5.0 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs, 0 earned, 3 strikeouts, 1 walk, 1 home run allowed, 82 pitches

Fastball: Hernandez threw less than a handful of four-seam fastballs in the outing, primarily relying on his 83-85 mph two-seam fastball and 81 mph cut fastball. His four-seamer topped out at 86 mph the few times he threw it. A soft tosser, Hernandez’s results with his fastball were indicative of the fine line he walks with his command. In the first inning of the start, he had a lot of trouble keeping the different variations of his fastball down and out of the middle of the plate. He gave up a loud double against an 84 mph two-seamer that backed up into the fat part of the plate to Binghamton lefty Matt Den Dekker. Later in the inning, he hung two 81 mph cutters down the middle for more hard contact, with the second one resulting in a long home run to left field by Mets’ right-handed hitter Eric Campbell. Hernandez had trouble finishing his delivery, and as a result could not stay on top of the ball or keep consistent with his mid-3/4 arm slot to throw downhill. As the outing progressed, he did find the feel for his cutter. Showing more backdoor break and the ability to keep it away from righties or run away from lefties, Hernandez heavily leaned on the pitch to churn through the lineup. He mixed in his two-seamer with the offering, keeping it down in the zone more to produce groundballs, but at times did struggle to command the pitch and keep it from tailing into the middle of the plate. The pitch shows solid movement when using it across the plate to right-handed hitters.

Secondary Offerings: Hernandez worked to utilize his changeup and curveball throughout the outing. Similar to his fastball, he struggled to finish his 78-80 mph change early in the start. As a result, the pitch floated up the plate, lacked drop, and was squared up hard or stayed out of the zone for a ball. He found more feel for the offering after the first inning, closing out the second frame with a swinging strikeout against a 79 mph one. Hernandez created solid arm speed when throwing it and produced strong drop out of the strike zone as the outing progressed. He threw a handful more deeper into the outing, but opposing hitters began taking the pitch. The lack of separation from his fastball seemed to allow the Binghamton hitters to recognize the tumble quicker. Hernandez threw seven curveballs that ranged from 74-78 mph. The pitch was loopy the first few times he threw it, rolling to the plate in the lower reaches of its velocity. Like with the other pieces of his repertoire, he gained more feel and crispness as he got into the middle innings. Hernandez snapped off three curves in the fifth inning that had deeper break and clocked at 77-78 mph. One showed very tight rotation to produce a weak swing-and-miss. He can be inconsistent with staying on top of the offering, which gives it more slurvy break and makes it easier to track for polished hitters against breaking stuff.

Take: Hernandez’s start showed how important the command and control of his arsenal are now that he is in the upper levels of the minors. Especially with his two-seam and cut fastball, he can ill afford to leave them in the middle of the plate. Opposing batters typically make hard contact against every mistake he makes. His delivery was the root cause of his struggles early in the outing with keeping the ball down and crisply executing his pitches. Hernandez is smooth and balanced during it, but was inconsistent with driving downward when landing. His arm stayed too high and he could not finish any of his pitches. He did recognize this early. Showing good composure and mound presence after getting tagged for the 3-run home run, he collected himself to get out of the inning and right the ship with his mechanics the rest of the way. Hernandez impressed with not letting his struggles get to him in that first inning, when it looked like it was going to be a long night as he did not have much in terms of feel for his stuff. His maturity was evident in the outing, along with his knowledge of what was causing him to not properly execute.

Hernandez will have to work hard to avoid big innings as a starter in the high minors. While he knows how he has to pitch, his stuff is on the fringy side. I see him being able to churn through stretches of opposing lineups during outings, especially against ones with average Double-A hitters, but the better hitters at this level and beyond are going to be a strain on his repertoire multiple times through the order. At some point down the line, he is very likely to convert to relieving. Hernandez’s projection as a potential major leaguer rests with one inning stints or in a specialist role if his stuff does not play up advanced right-handed batters. I see the latter role as more of a last ditch effort. His cut fastball can effective against righties and shows solid late break when he is keeping it arm-side. He cannot come inside with it often though. With continuing to be challenged in a starting role this season, he can hone his command to be more consistently like he displayed after the first inning of this outing and be successful against hitters from both sides of the plate in short outings at higher levels. The key pitch is his curve. It is presently inconsistent and grades as a fringe-average offering. Subsequent scouting opportunities will be focused on how that pitch is progressing and whether it is developing into an offering that can fool big league hitters.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen