As an older international prospect, Hernandez came with little fanfare when the Royals signed him out of Venezuela at age 19 for $15,000 in July 2016. His high ceiling, however, was very much in line with the typical J2 signee, and he’s offered glimpses of it across three truncated seasons in the Minors. The start of his full-season debut in '18 was delayed by a death in the family and cut short by some fatigue at the end of the summer, while a fractured rib suffered during Spring Training kept him out of action until June in ’19. When he finally took the mound at Class A Lexington, Hernandez showcased electric stuff that was even more pronounced during instructional league, prompting the Royals to add him to their 40-man roster in November.
While Hernandez has long stood out for his plus fastball, his velocity was better than ever in 2019, as he comfortably sat in the mid- to upper-90s before bumping triple digits in the fall. He could very well sit in upper 90s as he gains much-needed experience, and he already does a good job creating downhill plane to the plate. Hernandez’s low-80s curveball is his better secondary pitch and receives above-average grades from evaluators, but he’s still learning how to repeat his mechanics to consistently execute the pitch. He has feel for throwing a changeup and can mix in a slider, though neither offering is particularly dynamic.
Though he’s listed at 6-foot-4, 175 pounds, Hernandez actually is much heavier than that and has a thicker build that will require maintenance throughout his career. Club officials believe that will be less of an issue after the right-hander’s healthy offseason and view him as a potential breakout candidate in 2020. Improving his secondary arsenal could go a long way in helping Hernandez reach his potential as a big league starter, and it’s easy to envision him impacting games out of the bullpen if that doesn’t work out.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 45
Most of the international signings that make a splash involve six or seven figures and a 16-year-old with a ridiculous ceiling. Hernandez has the ceiling right, but he signed at age 19 and received just $15,000 to sign in July 2016 out of Venezuela. His 2017 pro debut in the Appalachian League was up-and-down, but he started showing why the Royals are excited about him with a move to full-season ball in 2018, though his season was delayed by a death in the family early and cut short by some fatigue at the end of the summer. He wasn't able to make much progress in 2019, as a fractured rib suffered in Spring Training kept him off the mound until June.
Projectable at 6-foot-4, Hernandez is still growing into his body and his fastball. He easily sits around 94 mph and touches 97 mph regularly, with many feeling he could be sitting in the 96- to 97-mph range at some point in the future. At its best, the right-hander's curve is better than his changeup, though the latter is more consistent. With his long levers, it's hard for him to repeat his mechanics on his breaking ball, but it has the potential to be a plus pitch. He's showing an increasing ability to land all three pitches for strikes.
Hernandez's fatigue at the end of the year led to some minor arm issues, but those mostly stemmed from him not being physically prepared for a long season. The hope is to get him through a full season healthy, with a full slate of starts, as he continues to mature both physically and mentally to the rigors of being a starting pitcher.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 45
Hernandez signed at the relatively advanced age of 19 out of Venezuela and received the lowest signing bonus in the Royals' 2016-17 international class at $15,000. He also posted a 5.49 ERA in the Rookie-level Appalachian League during his 2017 pro debut -- yet he has one of the highest ceiling among the system's pitchers. One club official said Hernandez could rank as Kansas City's best mound prospect by the end of 2018.
In his first taste of pro ball, Hernandez routinely worked at 94-97 mph and showed the arm speed and projectability to reach triple digits in the future. He already has an advanced changeup that could become a plus pitch and helped him limit left-handers to a .222 average in 2017. His curveball isn't as consistent but has enough power and depth to become at least an average offering.
His repertoire recalls Miguel Almonte's at the same stage of their careers, but Hernandez has the advantages of a bigger frame and a better delivery. He's doing a better job of repeating his mechanics this year, enhancing his chances of remaining if he remains a starter. If he continues to make the necessary refinements, he could fit into the middle of a big league rotation.