Finally, my Gaby Hernandez thoughts

I’ve been meaning to write something about Gaby Hernandez ever since he was originally DFA’d by the Seattle Mariners back on February 1st.  The Red Sox claimed him off waivers on February 10th only to designate him for assignment on March 1st.  Just days later, on March 3rd, he was a part of the Kansas City Royals organization.

To make room for the 23-year old RHP on the 40-man roster, RHP-Henry Barrera (24) was placed on the 60-day DL as he continues to recover from reconstructive elbow surgery last summer.  When the moves were finalized, Kansas City became Gaby’s third organization in the span of a month.  He’s young and he has options remaining but outside of those two factors, I don’t see the merit in this move.

Gaby Hernandez was drafted by the New York Mets in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft.  Baseball America ranked him as the Mets 4th best prospect heading into the 2005 season.  On December 5th, 2005 the Mets traded Hernandez as well as Dante Brinkley to the Florida Marlins in exchange for Paul LoDuca.  Heading into 2006 BA ranked Gaby as the Marlins 9th best prospect and his 2006 Prospect Handbook write-up revealed the following.

Hernandez’ curveball is a work in progress.  It lacks depth and he tends to reveal it early.  He’s not overpowering enough to survive without a good breaking ball … he projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter if his curve develops.

Gaby’s performance in 2006 bumped his stock up.  Prior to the 2007 season, he was ranked as the Marlins 3rd best prospect.  In his profile, he was praised for his work ethic and his developing curveball.

Heading into the 2008 season, Hernandez found himself ranked as the Marlins 6th best prospect and his profile featured the following:

Hernandez’ tight curveball comes and goes but still ranks as the best in the system.  His fastball sits at 88-92 mph and touches 94 mph with good deception.  His changeup is improving and shows plus life at times.

On July 31st, 2008 the Florida Marlins traded him to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Arthur Rhodes.  In the 2009 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Gaby was ranked as the Mariners 21st best prospect.  His decline in the rankings came on the heels of a season that saw him struggle at Double-A and Triple-A.  Beyond struggling against more advanced competition, Baseball America offered up this nugget in his profile:

He’s durable and flashes three average or better pitches, but he often tries to be so fine that his stuff plays down.

2009 was another year of struggles as he fought to find success in Triple-A Tacoma.  Seattle was clearly not impressed with his progress and cut ties with him.

If you count his very short stint with the Red Sox this offseason, the Royals are his 5th organization.  He will turn 24 in mid-May this season and bouncing through five organizations is pretty telling to me.  If you are an optimist you can say that four teams, prior to the Royals, saw something in Hernandez that was worth spending the developmental effort and resources on.  You’d be absolutely right to think this based on the above reports.  If you are a pessimist you can easily point to the fact that four teams have already passed him on and label the Royals claim a complete waste of time.

After giving it a lot of thought and analysis, I have come to the conclusion that his spot on the Royals 40-man roster should probably have been spent on another player or left open in case a more attractive option presents itself.  I’m not going to say the move is a complete waste of time, but I think it is telling that he has never spent more than 2.5 seasons in any organization’s minor league system.

New York Mets:  187.2 IP
Florida Marlins:  351.1 IP
Seattle Mariners:  178.2 IP
Boston Red Sox: 0 IP

Another red flag for me is his SO/9 which has steadily declined as he has climbed the rungs of the minor league ladder.  This phenomenon isn’t unique to Hernandez, but you’d like to see him maintain some semblance of the rate he showed in the lower levels.  At the very least you’d like to see it bump back up at some point along the way.

Career SO/9:  7.6 in 727.2 IP
Rookie:  10.5 in 49.2 IP
Low-A:  9.6 in 92.2 IP
High-A:  8.1 in 162.1 IP
Double-A SO/9:  6.6 in 209.0 IP
Triple-A SO/9:  6.5 in 211.0 IP

Not surprisingly his SO/BB has declined as well, but he has maintained a rather steady BB/9 rate around his career mark of 2.9 at pretty much every level.  On its own merit a 2.9 BB/9 is decent, but when it is coupled with a 6.5 Triple-A SO/9 you can excuse me when I don’t get excited.  I could look beyond all of this if he limited the number of hits allowed, and his career 8.8 H/9 doesn’t make you wince.  However the 10.7 H/9 in Triple-A coupled with his declining SO rate and the fact he has failed to impress at any level since 2006, when he was in high-A, doesn’t exactly instill confidence that he can find success in the majors.

He’s on the 40-man, but something better will probably come along.  That is exactly what happened with the Red Sox, who found Casey Fien more to their liking when the Tigers DFA’d him.  If the Royals follow Boston’s path and dump Hernandez when something better comes along, then this is a case of “no harm, no foul.”  If they pass on claiming other players because they added Gaby Hernandez to their 40-man roster, then this seemingly minor, low-risk move could hurt the organization.

Baseball is a funny and largely unpredictable game so despite all of the above it is possible that all Hernandez needs is a chance to pitch in the major leagues to put it all together.  He has three pitches that rate as major league average, an excellent work ethic, and has always shown good poise and maturity on the mound.   For all the positive comments in the scouting reports and the fact he has been young relative to his competition, there is no escaping the fact that the results just haven’t been that good.  The Royals have a number of guys who are similar to Hernandez along these lines and Gaby’s presence could keep someone more deserving from taking a spot in the Triple-A rotation.

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In other news, the Royals sent seven players to minor league camp as they made their first round of spring training cuts.  Among those players reassigned were; 3B-Mike Moustakas, OF-David Lough, LHP-Danny Duffy, OF-Derrick Robinson, 1B-Ernesto Mejia, SS-Mario Lisson, and C-Steve Lerud.

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(Wally Fish is the lead blogger for Kings of Kauffman and FanSided’s MLB Director.  Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)

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