KC Royals Projections: Carlos Hernandez needs work

How much time will pitcher Carlos Hernandez get with the KC Royals in 2021?

Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s KC Royals Projections series for 2021. Between now and Opening Day, our writers are analyzing how various Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is pitcher Carlos Hernandez. 

Start up a conversation about the makeup of the KC Royals’ starting rotation. Sooner or later (the wait won’t be too long), someone will mention Carlos Hernandez and his fastball, and then mix in talk of his curve. They’ll say he’s big, throws hard, and looks like a big league pitcher. He’ll be described as a “maybe” for the rotation sometime this season.

But for all his promise—he’s Kansas City’s No. 9 prospect and fifth best pitching prospect according to MLB Pipeline—more work is required before he can permanently join the major league staff.

That much was evident again Wednesday in Hernandez’s first appearance of the spring, a two-inning starting stint against the White Sox that resembled the bulk of his 2020 effort with the Royals. Although he retired the Sox in order in the second, he gave them three runs on three hits in the first.

It was the kind of trouble Hernandez found himself in last season when the Royals gave him his first professional experience above A-ball. He pitched 3.2 scoreless innings in his first big league game, then surrendered four runs once, three runs once, and one run twice, and finished his five-game introduction to the majors 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in 14.2 innings. He suffered some of the same rough spots as Kris Bubic, who also made the long jump from Class A to Kansas City.

That Hernandez’s road against major league hitters has been bumpy isn’t that surprising. His 10-14, 4.56 three-season minor league record doesn’t match his lofty prospect ranking (6-5, 3.29 at Class A Lexington was his only winning campaign), and throwing well against big leaguers is a lot to expect from a 23-year old who’s only faced low-minors hitters, most of whom don’t have bats that will ever see the majors.

Obviously, Hernandez is a work in progress. How will 2021 treat him?

Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projections for Hernandez’s KC Royals season

If Baseball Reference and FanGraphs are correct, Hernandez will pitch for the Royals this year, but won’t be remarkable. Baseball Reference predicts he’ll pitch 66 innings for Kansas City, post a 4.36 ERA. and strike out 68. FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) projects the same win-loss record in 15 fewer innings, but believes he’ll have a higher ERA (5.18).

What kind of 2021 campaign will Hernandez actually have for the KC Royals?

Although he probably won’t make the Opening Day roster, Hernandez may, as Baseball Reference and FanGraphs foresee, pitch in the majors this season. That may not be the best thing for the young righthander—a year of minor league seasoning and refinement is probably the far better choice.

If the Royals do call, don’t expect it to be soon enough for him to pitch much or rack up meaningful numbers; his only realistic chance to appear early in the season is if the club carries an extra pitcher or two in April and into May.

A full year in the minors, preferably starting at Double A Northwest Arkansas with a later move to Triple A Omaha, will be good for Hernandez. He’s tasted the big leagues; now, it’s time to get him ready to return for good.

Carlos Hernandez has shown flashes of the pitcher the Royals think he can be. He just needs more work without the pressure of the majors.