Thursday, December 12, 2013
PORTLAND — If Portland Sea Dogs left-hander Chris Hernandez was not under the gun, maybe he would be more appreciated.
Chris Hernandez is in Double-A in his second full pro season, proving he can succeed without a dominating fastball.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
EL ALL-STAR GAME
WHEN: 7:05 p.m. today
WHERE: Reading, Pa.
SEA DOGS PICKED: OF Bryce Brentz, 1B Reynaldo Rodriguez and P Chris Hernandez (unable to pitch, replaced by Dogs reliever Aaron Kurcz)
In his second full pro season, Hernandez, 23, has proved to be one of the most dependable starting pitchers in the Red Sox organization. He recently received an invitation to the Eastern League All-Star Game tonight in Reading, Pa., but is unable to pitch in the game.
But look at a list of top Red Sox prospects. You won't find Hernandez.
Maybe it's because you also won't find him on a list of pitchers whose fastballs consistently reach over 90 mph on the radar gun.
"Chris Hernandez is not going to overwhelm you with stuff," Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper said. "And he's OK with that. His game is not about velocity."
While Hernandez throws an 89 mph fastball, it has late movement. He also throws a cut fastball (more movement), and changes speeds with a curveball. His change-up is still developing.
"You don't have to throw hard to be successful," Hernandez said, "if you can pitch and keep the ball down in the zone. I sometimes think that having movement and deception is better than throwing a 98 mph fastball."
While Hernandez may not impress you with his speed, he will with his results, as well as his character -- the former no doubt a result of the latter.
"Very respectful. Very mature. Very organized. Very responsible," Kipper said.
Hernandez's parents, Arnardo and Teri, can take a bow for the character -- "My parents were disciplined, but we had fun," Hernandez said. "They took great care of my brother (Nicholas) and I. They made sure we grew up respectful, with morals and values."
Now it is up to Kipper to make sure Hernandez keeps growing as a pitcher. Kipper has an eager pupil.
"He is a student of the game," Kipper said. "He pays attention. He has a high level of focus. He's one guy, when you watch him between innings, there are no distractions."
Hernandez said his high school and college programs prepared him to be a pro. He arrived in Portland with plenty of credentials.
He starred for Monsignor Pace High, the school near Miami that is considered one of the nation's best high school baseball programs.
Hernandez was drafted by the Detroit Tigers, but he opted for the University of Miami, one of the nation's best college baseball programs, where he became the ace as a freshman.
But even after a 28-8 record over three years with a 3.29 ERA, Hernandez did not get picked in the 2010 draft until the seventh round -- the 120th pitcher chosen. The scouts watching Hernandez obviously looked at their radar guns and moved on.
"Coming out of college, that's what guys always used to talk my game down, that I didn't have value because I didn't throw hard," Hernandez said. "But I still put up numbers comparable to all, sometimes better than those first-round picks that threw 94-95.
"But they were first-round picks because they threw 94-95 and I didn't."
The Red Sox thought enough of him to start him in advanced Class A Salem in his first full pro season, in 2011. No problem. Hernandez went 10-7 with a 3.18 ERA (it was 2.52 until his last two starts, when he struggled).
Still, only prospect Alex Wilson had a better ERA among Boston's minor league starters.
Entering this season, Hernandez was assigned to Portland.
But try to find him on a list of Red Sox "prospects." The renowned Baseball America Prospect Handbook, an annual list of an organization's top 30 prospects, does not list Hernandez.
The oft-updated soxprospects.com list of Red Sox minor leaguers ranks Hernandez at No .37 (which is up from 44th, where he started the year).
Hernandez can't worry about lists, and he doesn't. He keeps producing, while getting rewarded in other ways. He was a Carolina League All-Star last year, and now is being honored by the Eastern League (Red Sox starters rarely make appearances in this game).
Hernandez is tentatively scheduled to pitch again this weekend when the Sea Dogs return to Hadlock Field.
"I'm pleased with everything so far," Hernandez said. "It's somewhat self-satisfying to be named an All-Star and keep proving others wrong.
"But the game is always a work in progress. I'm always working on little things."
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org