A tall, strong right-hander ranks as the 10th top prospect for the KC Royals. How does he project for the 2020 season?
Welcome to Kings of Kauffman’s “Projecting the Prospects” series for 2020. We’ll be reviewing each of the organization’s Top 30 prospects and projecting their best, worst and most likely scenarios for the upcoming season. Up for today is starting pitcher Carlos Hernandez.
The KC Royals trimmed their spring training roster for the first time last week, sending a group of pitchers out via minor league options and reassignments to the club’s minor league camp. Hot prospects Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch are now working in the minor league part of the spring complex while Scott Blewett, considered by some to have a shot at making the team, will instead start the season at Omaha.
Perhaps lost in this initial player shuffle was pitching prospect Carlos Hernandez, who was optioned to High A Wilmington. But that isn’t particularly surprising–Hernandez didn’t attract much attention when the Royals inexpensively signed him for $15,000 as an international free agent and hasn’t made much news in his minor league career. His 10-14, 4.56 ERA record hardly merits rave review: he was 1-4 (5.49 ERA ) in Rookie ball in 2017, 6-5 (3.29 ERA) in A ball in ’18, and 3-5 (5.31 ERA) across Rookie and A ball last year.
His unremarkable record doesn’t mean, however, that Hernandez isn’t in the KC Royals’ plans. He is, and justifiably so–Hernandez ranks as the club’s 10th best prospect in the latest Royals Top 30 list from MLB.com, and he’s listed there as the sixth-best pitcher behind notables Brady Singer, Lynch, Kowar, Kris Bubic and Jonathan Bowlan. The club also placed him on its 40-man roster in November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, a status that hasn’t changed. At 6-4 and 175 pounds, Hernandez is built for pitching success and has a good mid-to-high 90’s fastball.
How should this top prospect project for 2020?
Worst case scenario. If Hernandez’s one spring training appearance is any indication, he’s in for a rough season. He blew a save and gave up three runs on three hits (one a solo home run) in 1.1 innings against Seattle a week before being optioned to Wilmington; although three of the four outs he obtained were on ground balls, it wasn’t an endearing effort. But it was only one outing.
That he’s posted only one winning record–his 6-5 in 15 starts at Class A Lexington in 2018–and is 4-9 over the remainder of his three seasons in the minors, doesn’t provide much optimism for 2020, especially when he’s moving up a classification.
Considering the right-hander’s undistinguished minor league career, Hernandez’s worst case scenario for this season is another unremarkable campaign, most likely a .500 (or slightly worse) record that will once again draw little notice outside the Royals’ organization.
Best case scenario. Recent performances provide reason to believe 2020 may be a good year for Hernandez. Although he started 2019 with an 0-2, 7.36 ERA stint in Arizona Rookie ball (a broken rib suffered in spring training held him out until late June), then had a 9.28 ERA at Burlington, Hernandez found more success at his final ’19 stop–he returned to Class A ball at Lexington and went 3-3 with a much improved 3.50 ERA.
He also had the best strikeout rate of his short career last season–10.6 SO9 combined across his three stops–and, despite walking 12 batters in 10.2 innings at Burlington, Hernandez had a 2.5 BB9 at Arizona and a 2.3 BB9 at Lexington.
Discounting his poor spring training outing as too small a sample and assuming Hernandez’s recovery from his broken rib is complete, his fastball keeps popping, he continues to fan batters at a high rate, and his control remains good, Hernandez could have his second winning season, one that may well result in his first exposure to AA ball.
Most likely outcome. This should be Hernandez’s best season yet. Look for more wins than losses and a promotion to AA Northwest Arkansas before the campaign ends. He’s also the type of prospect the KC Royals would usually call up in September, but because baseball’s new roster rules allow only a two-player expansion, he probably won’t see Kansas City until 2021.
KC Royals’ prospect Carlos Hernandez hasn’t made much news in his short minor league career, but 2020 may be the season fans become much more familiar with him.