Opinion

Darwinzon Hernandez Should Start 2019 in the Minors

Darwinzon Hernandez is a fantastic prospect, but the 22-year old lefty isn't ready to start the season with the major league Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox bullpen is in something of disarray, but the team may have found a gem in Spring Training. Left-handed pitcher and my second-ranked Red Sox prospect Darwinzon Hernandez is having a spring to remember, pitching 10 innings to the tune of a 0.90 ERA while striking out 12 and walking five. Hernandez has a fantastic pitch tool and is still with the major league club in Spring Training. With these impressive results, some are calling for the lefty to make the Opening Day major league roster.

While Hernandez has a bright future in baseball, calling him up to the majors would be premature. Hernandez doesn’t have the experience necessary to contribute to a major league bullpen, and the Red Sox shouldn’t give up on making him into a starting pitcher.

Darwinzon Hernandez Isn’t Quite Major League Ready

Hernandez is just 22 years old and has yet to pitch against high-caliber opponents. The Venezuela native spent the majority of 2018 with the High-A Salem Red Sox before making a late-season cameo with the AA Portland Sea Dogs. Hernandez pitched just six innings in Portland, all in relief. Quite frankly, asking Hernandez to make this type of jump in diffculty is asking the impossible. Going from facing essentially Single-A caliber hitting to major league hitting is like going from the shallow end of the pool to swimming in the Olympics.

Hernandez needs more time to develop in the minors, as there are countless examples of promising minor leaguers being promoted too soon and not being able to handle the sudden jump in talent. Even though he’s been in the major league camp, Hernandez hasn’t faced the most intimating group of hitters.

Baseball Reference tracks every batter an opposing pitcher faces in Spring Training and compiles them into an “Opponent Quality” statistic. What this does is essentially rates the level of competition a player faces on a scale of one to ten, with ten being an MLB regular and a one being a pitcher. So far through spring training, Hernandez’ Opponent Quality sits at 6.4, which roughly correlates to the AA level. It’s obviously great that he’s able to compile these numbers against minor leaguers, but he hasn’t faced the best of the best.

Darwinzon Hernandez is a Starter

Anyone who listens to the Red Sox Unfiltered podcast knows that I believe Darwinzon Hernandez has the ability to be a top- to mid-rotation starter. He has an incredible fastball, a strong curveball, and a dangerous slider and changeup combination to keep hitters guessing. The only reason he’s not one of the top prospects in baseball is because he struggles with command.

Because of his erratic command, some within the organization are thinking about giving up on Hernandez as a starter and converting him to a reliever. He has the stuff to be one of the better relievers in baseball and his scattershot command won’t be a big deal in the bullpen.

While Hernandez might have to go to the bullpen eventually, the Red Sox owe it to themselves to see if Hernandez can stick in the rotation. It’s not unheard of for a 22-year old to improve their command, and everything else in Hernandez’ repertoire makes him good enough to develop into a starter. Starting pitching is significantly more valuable than relief pitching, so the Red Sox would be doing themselves a major disservice by throwing Hernandez into the bullpen. The only way for Hernandez to develop as a starter is to keep him in the minors, as nobody thinks he’s ready to be a major league starter.

Featured image courtesy of Kelly O’Connor
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