Featured image courtesy of Minor League Baseball
While Jay Groome still has the highest ceiling for pitchers in the Red Sox farm system, the most likely big-league starter is 21-year old Darwinzon Hernandez. The Venezuela native has impressed ever since joining the Red Sox organization back in 2014 and is now the third-best prospect in the Sox farm system, per Baseball Prospectus. What makes Hernandez so promising, and what must he work on before making the jump to the majors?
Red Sox Prospects: Darwinzon Hernandez
Hernandez first appeared in rookie ball during a shortened 2014 season and has consistently improved every single year he’s been in the minors. He’s never spent more than one year at an individual level and finished his 2018 season with the AA Portland Sea Dogs despite being just 21-years old.
Hernandez spent the majority of 2018 with the High-A Salem Red Sox, posting a 3.56 ERA and a 3.17 FIP. He started 23 games, throwing a grand total of 101.0 innings and striking out 11.05 batters per nine innings. These fantastic numbers earned him a late-season call to the Sea Dogs. Hernandez only made five appearances, all in relief, for a grand total of six innings. Still, in that short sample, he struck out 10 batters and only allowed two runs.
Hernandez’ best pitch is his fastball, coming in at 93-95 miles per hour. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot, which helps give his fastball a bit of extra motion and adds some deceptive speed. This is far and away his best and most consistent pitch. Hernandez is working on becoming a four-pitch guy, as he also throws a curveball, changeup, and slider. However, all three pitches are somewhat inconsistent and don’t have elite movement. That said, when he’s on, all three offerings are good enough to complement his fastball.
What Needs To Improve
Like just about every Red Sox prospect, Hernandez needs to work on improving his command. While he clearly has fantastic strikeout ability, his walk rate is a serious problem at this point in his development. Throughout the 2018 season, Hernandez walked 14.0% of the batters he faced.
The walk issues, unfortunately, are nothing new for Hernandez. Throughout his minor league career, Hernandez has walked 12.9% of the batters he’s faced. By comparison, the MLB league-average walk rate was 8.5%. This obviously doesn’t bode well for Hernandez, and consistently finding the strike zone should be Hernandez’ top priority in 2018.
Hernandez Moving Forward
At the very least, Hernandez projects to be a good bullpen arm in the major league level. He has a great fastball and multiple pitches capable of being major-league caliber. His strikeout rate is impressive and his ERA and FIP have improved at just about every level.
His ultimate ceiling will be determined by his command. As of now, Hernandez can never be a starting pitcher with his high walk rate. He still has the goods to be a bullpen arm, but Hernandez has the potential to be a mid to late arm in the starting rotation.
Hernandez will start the season with the AA Portland Sea Dogs. While he has brief familiarity with this level of competition, the consensus is that the jump in difficulty from A to AA is perhaps the hardest in all of minor league baseball. Make sure to keep an eye on Hernandez, as his development will be one of the most intriguing parts of the 2019 season.