High Class A Report

Hernandez feels right at home with Marlins





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In many ways, it’s been an up and down two seasons for righthander Gaby Hernandez.

Hernandez is in his first season in a new organization, and the 20-year-old was still searching for consistency. He was dealing with command issues, leading to 4-3, 4.76 numbers through 57 innings with high Class A Jupiter.

Hernandez was a third-round pick of the Mets out of high school in Miami in 2004, and he moved to the Marlins along with outfielder Dante Brinkley in the Paul Lo Duca deal last December. He features a low-90s fastball, curveball and an above-average changeup.

That changeup was the key to his success as he cruised through the low Class A South Atlantic League last year as a teenager, going 6-1, 2.43 with 99 strikeouts in 93 innings. He also became accustomed to big-game opportunities in Hagerstown, tossing a no-hitter against West Virginia on Father’s Day, and squaring off against Astros lefthander Troy Patton to win the first-half Northern Division title.

But the Florida State League has proved to be a different kind of challenge for Hernandez. He went 2-5, 5.74 in 42 innings for St. Lucie after a midseason promotion last season, and he hasn’t fully emerged from that funk in 2006.

“My mechanics really caught up to me during the second half of the season,” Hernandez said. “Not that my mechanics were that great over the first half, but I was able to get away with some things. And I don’t think I was totally ready for this heat--it’s a lot hotter pitching here than it was in Hagerstown.

“But the problem was me repeating my mechanics consistently and maintaining that consistency throughout the course of a game.”

New Slate, Continued Development

The mechanical issues in Hernandez’ delivery are still there, though they aren’t as pronounced as they were last season. He has a tendency to fall forward too early at times, which leads to pitches being left up in the zone and takes bite off his developing curveball.

“When I’m moving forward and getting out of sync, my curveball flies everywhere and I’d get some major elevation on my fastball,” he said. “When I do that, I’m either walking guys like crazy or I’m throwing it right down the middle of the plate.

“Neither one of those situations is very good.”

Hernandez has worked hard with Jupiter pitching coach Reid Cornelius to stay back more as he goes into his windup and stay more direct with his arm angle toward home plate. And while there are signs of progress, consistency is another matter.

Over his last three starts in May, Hernandez dealt against Tampa--allowing a run on four hits and striking out five in eight innings--then came back and got shelled by Clearwater in his next outing, allowing seven earned runs on 10 hits in three innings. His command returned in the next start against the Threshers, when he again scattered five hits over eight innings and allowed just one earned run.

“These are the things such a young pitcher goes through,” Cornelius said. “We’re trying to get his direction going through the target, but he has the tendency to open up a little bit. When that front shoulder comes undone, he loses command.

“But when he keeps his direction going through the target and stays more compact over his front leg, that’s when you see more life to all his pitches. He’s got good stuff, it’s just a matter of him working through some minor things in his mechanics.”

The biggest part of Hernandez’ development will be his breaking ball. His fastball has good life and his changeup is an above-average pitch, but most scouts rate the curveball as just so-so.

“It’s harder now than it was,” Cornelius said. “But it could be harder and it could have some more depth to it. It has tight spin to it as long as he’s staying on top of it. And if he does that, the velocity could very well climb.

“His changeup is very good, he gets good downward action on it. It’s just a matter of him mechanically repeating his delivery and his arm speed. That will come with more experience.”

Going Home

Some young prospects who have had success in the minors would be crushed if they were dealt after their first full season, but that isn’t the case with Hernandez.

As a Miami native, being traded to the Marlins was like going home again. And being in a rebuilding situation in the Florida organization means Hernandez has more opportunities to move faster than he ever would have in New York.

“I was actually pretty happy about it,” he said. “I grew up a Marlins fan and I’m a lot closer to home. I was just worried about coming in as a new guy in a new organization and making a good impression.

“I want to show them what I can do, and I’m working hard to improve. I feel like I’m getting there. I’m trying to establish that inner part of the plate with my fastball, and I think my curveball has improved a lot from last year. In a lot of ways, I was trying to find it last year, and trying to learn more about what kind of pitcher I was. I’ve felt comfortable since Day One in this organization and I feel like I’m turning a corner on being the type of pitcher I know I can be.”



CALIFORNIA DREAMING

• Angels righthander Nick Green threw his second career complete game for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, striking out nine and allowing just one run in a win against High Desert. Green’s bugaboo this year has been the long ball--he had given up five of them in his last four starts and seven on the season--and he allowed a solo shot against the Mavericks, but he improved to 5-2, 3.81 overall.

• Rangers outfielder Steve Murphy continued his tear at Bakersfield, going 2-for-4 with a double. He had gone 14-for-24 (.583) over a six-game stretch with four doubles in his last three. Meanwhile, his Blaze teammate Jayce Tingler extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a pair of hits in Bakerfield’s 7-5 loss to Modesto. The streak ended at 17.

CAROLINA IN MY MIND

• Pirates catcher Neil Walker had been back for 10 days at Lynchburg, and the first eight were tough for the 20-year-old.

Before putting up three straight multi-hit games, Walker had a rough time adjusting to quality pitching in the Carolina League after missing all of spring training and the first month and a half of the season recovering from wrist surgery. Walker injured his right wrist at the end of the Arizona Fall League, and only started hitting in the cage--one-handed--during the middle of March.

“You really have to consider when the last time was when he played a night game,” Pirates field coordinator Jeff Bannister said. “There were very few night games in Arizona, obviously no night games in extended and all of the sudden he’s playing nothing but night games.

“Then you take into account all the young pitching he was facing once he got into games in extended and the fact that he only had 50 at-bats there and that equals a big-time adjustment period.”

The Pirates plan to break Walker back in behind the plate slowly, splitting his time between catching and serving as the DH at Lynchburg. And even though his wrist is completely healthy, they will be cautious as they bring him along.

“We want him to get as much experience as possible, but at the same time, we want to acclimate him slowly,” Bannister said. “It’s really about him getting his rhythm and his timing back and that’s just a matter of time. He’ll be fine. He’s the best pure hitter in the system.”

POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

• On the heels of his third-team All-America season at College of Charleston last spring, Brett Gardner was expected to move fast after being drafted by the Yankees in the third round. He spent last summer helping short-season Staten Island win the New York-Penn League championship, and he has had no difficulty skipping a level to high Class A Tampa this year.

The 22-year-old outfielder hit his fifth triple of the year, stole his 18th base and drove in three runs in Tampa’s 10-5 win against St. Lucie. He was leading the Florida State League with a .361 average in 158 at-bats with 36 walks and 39 strikeouts. His 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale has translated into triples, steals, bunt singles and stellar defense in center field.

“There’s no doubt he’s the fastest guy that I ever managed. This kid is amazing,” Tampa manager Luis Sojo said. “He puts a lot of pressure on the defense--it’s nice to have him on my side.”

Contributing: Chris Kline

Compiled by Aaron Fitt