Sunday, November 1, 2015

Random Former Prospect Sunday - Gorkys Hernandez

During the season, Sundays are set aside to take a look at a prospect at random, but with the minor league season over, I wasn't sure what to do for my Sunday article until this nugget of an idea came my way. How about we look at players who ranked in Baseball America's Top 100 while part of the Braves' organization, yet never appeared for the Braves? Over the next few months, I'll take a look at the prospects that were traded or simply faded away and just to keep up with my theme, I randomized the players.

Hernandez in 2014
Getty Images
He played in just 152 games in the Braves' minor league system between being involved in a couple of high profile trades, but that didn't stop Gorkys Hernandez from being ranked twice by Baseball America in the Top 100. He also was ranked as many times by Baseball Prospectus in its Top 100. Hernandez would soon become a journeyman speedster with an ever-increasing collection of jerseys rather than major league hits.

Signed out of Venezuela by the Tigers in 2005, Hernandez was a right-hand hitting teenager with speed and natural instincts in the outfield. He made his debut a year later by hitting .327 in the Gulf Coast League with 5 HR and 20 steals over 50 games. The interesting thing about the homer total was that it would be his personal high until 2013 when he hit six. Regardless of the flukish power, Hernandez was moved up the ladder the next year to West Michigan, where he hit .293 with 54 steals. He didn't walk a lot, but 19 year-olds generally don't light up the Midwest League.

During a winter league run with Caribas after the season, Hernandez became one of the first players sought by new general manager Frank Wren. The Tigers had made a hectic (but failed) run at getting back to the playoffs one year after losing in five games to the Cardinals. Incumbent shortstop Carlos Guillen had been very responsible for the success with 21 HR and an .859 OPS in 2007, but his defense, which was never that good, had gotten worse after turning 30 in '06. Meanwhile, the Braves were blessed with a glut of shortstops. Edgar Renteria had just finished up his second season of a Braves run where he slashed .310/.374/.451. He had missed some action in '07 and rookie Yunel Escobar had filled in superbly, hitting .326. The Braves also had Brent Lillibridge and Elvis Andrus on the farm. What they didn't have was much starting pitching, especially young pitching, to help support the Tim Hudson/John Smoltz-led staff.

Discussions between Dave Dombrowski and Wren centered on Jair Jurrjens, the young righty who had made his debut with the Tigers in '07. However, surrendering an established star like Renteria seemed like too big of a leap for a youngster with just 30.2 ING above AA ball (though all came with the Tigers). Hernandez was added to the deal and shortly after the 2007 playoffs ended, the deal was announced as Wren's first big move, though John Schuerholz certainly played a role.

While Jurrjens would go on to win a spot in the rotation and play a significant role for the 2008 Braves, Hernandez was assigned to Myrtle Beach after ranking #92 in Baseball America's Top 100. He would go to hit .264 with the Pelicans with 20 steals in 100 games. His OPS was only one point lower than his West Michigan's OPS the previous year, but the severe drop in steals was a sign of what was to come. After a 54-steal season, Hernandez has never stole more than 25 bases in a single season since. Still, for a 20 year-old playing in the Carolina League, plus spending half of his games in a stadium that can be impossible to drive the ball in depending on the wind, it was a successful season.

After improving his BA Top 100 ranking to #62 entering 2009, Hernandez got off to a fast start with Mississippi. Through 52 games, Hernandez was hitting .316 with a .748 OPS. But something was beginning to take shape in Atlanta...

The Atlanta Braves offense was meh in general during the 2009 season, but it was criminally awful in the outfield. In left field, the Braves had given someone named Garret Anderson the job. I'm told Anderson was formerly an All-Star for the Angels, but that wasn't the guy who played for the Braves. In right field, the Braves were still trotting out Jeff Francoeur on the regular. While Matt Diaz hid Anderson from lefties, the typical set of Anderson and Francoeur was rough, though you could say that at least they weren't Jordan Schafer-bad. Tasked with manning centerfield, Schafer had homered twice during the first weekend, including taking Brett Myers deep in his first plate appearance in the bigs. He remained productive through April, but things went to hell after that. He would later inform the Braves he had been playing hurt, but that didn't make the suckage any less acceptable.

With that in mind, the Braves sought an improvement in center and found it with Nate McLouth. The Pirates CF had just signed a long-term extension after going to an All-Star Game, winning a Gold Glove (undeserved), and leading the NL with 46 doubles in '08, but the Pirates were still willing to move him and the Braves were desperate. Packaging Hernandez with a pair of young starters, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke, the Braves waved goodbye to the outfielder.

Once traded, Hernandez saw his numbers tail off with Altoona in the Eastern League. He would only OPS .652 after the trade, earning him a return trip to Altoona in 2010. His numbers remained poor and he missed a chunk of the season to injury. Needing to move him up, Hernandez made his AAA debut in 2011 and while he had lost his top prospect status following his poor finish to the 2009 season, Hernandez at least showed there was a chance he could return to form by hitting .283/.348/.392 with 21 steals with the Indianapolis Indians.

He got off to a meh-start to open 2012, but was promoted to the bigs in late May and appeared in 25 games for the Pirates, though received only 26 PA. He walked once, was hit by a pitch once, and managed two singles in the other 24 at-bats. The 2012 Pirates were actually not too far away from competing for a playoff spot so they tried to improve their team by sending Hernandez and a competitive draft selection to the Marlins for Gaby Sanchez. With the Marlins to finish the 2012 season, Hernandez played regularly and hit .212/.288/.341 with 5 steals.

After failing to make the Marlins roster in 2013, Hernandez headed back to AAA. His numbers remained underwhelming and less than a year after acquiring him, the Marlins traded Hernandez to the Royals for minor leaguer Alex McClure. While Dayton Moore made a practice of grabbing any ex-Braves prospect back then, Moore wasn't with the Braves when they had acquired Hernandez. Hernandez finished the year with a .633 OPS while playing for Omaha.

2014 would see Hernandez remain out of the picture. He returned to the Royals, but was purchased by the White Sox a few weeks into the season. Hernandez lasted just two months after that before being cut. He hit just .233/.291/.286 in 51 games overall. He headed down to Mexico to finish the year and hit wonderfully down there.

The Pirates came calling in 2015, giving Hernandez a second shot with the organization he had made his debut with back in 2012. He didn't make the roster coming out of spring, but did hit .288/.365/.406 in his return to Indianapolis. On June 28, the Pirates were playing a visiting Atlanta Braves club. The previous day, Andrew McCutchen had been hit by a pitch and was removed for precautionary reasons. The Pirates grew tired, yet again, of Jose Tabata and wanted a look at Hernandez along with adding depth. Hernandez would start in right field vs. the Braves and go 0-for-3. He would play seven more games and received two at-bats, though he remained hitless. In July, he was DL'd for shoulder discomfort and when healthy, he was outrighted to Indianapolis, where he would finish the season.

Hernandez just turned 28 and has hit .186/.260/.292 during his 78 games in the majors. He'll look for a good situation this winter while continuing his yearly return to Caribes in the Venezela Winter League.

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