Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects
By Jim Callis
1. Carlos Hernandez, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 145. Signed: Venezuela, 1997. Signed by: Andres Reiner.
Background: For all their success mining Venezuela for talent, the Astros didnt get a major league win from those efforts until last Aug. 18. The first Houston pitcher to jump from Double-A to the majors in a decade, Hernandez blanked the Pirates on two hits over seven innings. He followed up with six scoreless innings against the Phillies, and extended his shutout streak to 17 innings in his next start before giving up a two-run homer to the Reds Adam Dunn. But in that game Hernandez dove headfirst back into second base, slightly tearing his rotator cuff and ending his season. He had shown brilliance in flashes before, with an 18-strikeout game in 1999 and a no-hitter in 2000, but hadnt been consistent. Hernandez set the tone for 2001 before the season even began, as he was the most impressive prospect in Houstons big league camp and threw five perfect innings against the Astros in the exhibition finale.
Strengths: Hernandez best pitch has always been a curveball that made him unhittable when he could throw it for strikes. It has a true 12-to-6 break, but he was inconsistent with it and sometimes relied on it too much. At the beginning of the year at Double-A Round Rock, he started using his fastball and changeup more often, which cost him command of his curve. By midseason he had all three pitches working. Hernandez has learned to trust all three pitches. His curve is still his bread and butter, though his fastball is also a quality pitch at 90-95 mph with late life.
Weaknesses: Hernandez will be encouraged to remove the headfirst slide from his repertoire. He didnt need shoulder surgery because rest should heal the tear, but he wasnt going to pitch again until January. Once healthy, he just needs to hone his control, both in terms of throwing strikes and locating his pitches within the zone.
The Future: Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller and Shane Reynolds are guaranteed jobs in the Houston rotation, and the Astros are leaning toward keeping Dave Mlicki in the fourth slot. Hernandez and Tim Redding would battle to be the No. 5 starter, and Hernandez may have an advantage because hes a lefty.
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