By JAY LeBLANC
July 31, 2008
Through their international scouting efforts and willingness to draft and then pay up for players thought to be unsignable due to college commitments and contract demands, the Detroit Tigers had built up a pretty solid farm system entering this past offseason. Then they decided to go for broke in an effort to win immediately. Shortly after the 2007 season ended, they traded promising right-hander Jair Jurrjens and multi-tool outfielder Gorkys Hernandez to the Atlanta Braves for shortstop Edgar Renteria, and followed that up a few months later by dealing two of their top prospects, lefty Andrew Miller and outfield phenom Cameron Maybin, and four others to the Florida Marlins for slugger Miguel Cabrera and former 22-game winner and National League Cy Young runner-up Dontrelle Willis.
Things haven’t quite gone as the Tigers planned. They’re currently in third place, 5 1/2 games behind the Chicago White Sox, and while Cabrera has been productive - he’s currently hitting .293 with 18 home runs and 75 RBI - Willis posted a 10.32 ERA before being banished to the minors and Renteria is hitting just .261 with a measly 15 extra-base hits. Meanwhile, Maybin, who is currently playing for the double-A Carolina Mudcats, remains one of the game’s top prospects, and though Miller is struggling for Florida, he’s shown flashes of brilliance and likely still has a bright future once he gets ahold of his considerable stuff and figures out how to pitch to big league hitters. So far, however, Atlanta looks like the big winner out of the Tigers’ prospect firesale. Jurrjens has been quietly outstanding, going 10-6 with an 3.06 ERA, and Hernandez continues to make solid progress down on the farm with the advanced Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
Still just 20 years old, the speedy 6-foot, 175 pound Venezuelan has already put together an impressive resume. Hernandez made his professional debut in 2006 with the Rookie-level GCL Tigers and earned Gulf Coast League Post-Season All-Star honors after hitting .327 with five home runs, 24 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 50 games. He followed that up by hitting .293 with four home runs, 50 RBI and 54 stolen bases last season with the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps. He was a Midwest League Mid-season All-Star and played in the Futures Game, and went on to capture league MVP and Post-Season All-Star honors. Despite missing a month with a hamstring injury, Hernandez is having another solid season with Myrtle Beach. In 69 games, he’s hitting .284 with 17 doubles, five triples, four home runs, 28 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 14 attempts, and was selected to play in his second consecutive Futures Game. I recently had a chance to speak with Hernandez, who is ranked by Baseball America as the Braves’ No. 5 prospect:
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been traded to the Braves?
A: It surprised me. When they called, I was in Venezuela. The Detroit Tigers called me and said you’ve been traded for Edgar Renteria.
Q: You were recently selected to play in your second straight Futures Game. What was that experience like last year?
A: It was fun to play with some guys who are now in the big leagues - Max Ramirez, who plays in the big leagues for Texas right now, and Carlos Gonzalez, who plays for Oakland in right field. It was a surprise to me to play this year too.
Q: Could you describe your approach to the game?
A: It’s easy. I just play here every day and work hard every day. This year I’m trying to help my team every day and win a championship.
Q: Who are some of your favorite players?
A: On defense, my favorite player is Torii Hunter, the Angels’ center fielder. For hitting, it’s Carlos Beltran. And for running, the shortstop of the Mets, Jose Reyes.
Q: Your game is still developing, but when it’s all said and done, do you think you’ll be a leadoff hitter or a middle-of-the-order guy?
A: Leadoff, like Reyes, the shortstop of the Mets. I want to do the same things - bunt, get on base and run.
Q: What are some of the things your coaches are helping you improve upon this season?
A: They’ve helped me a lot with my hitting, with my outfielding and base running. It’s good - they help me every time, every day. They said “You need more aggression in the outfield and when you throw to home plate or whatever, so you can play in the big leagues.”
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo by Amanda Rice
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians.