With the depth of the San Francisco Giants expected to spread thin due to the loss of Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan and the team’s lack of a big-name free agent signing, the 2017 season presents a golden opportunity for Gorkys Hernandez to see consistent playing time at the big league level.
Before signing a minor-league contract with the San Francisco Giants last offseason, Gorkys Hernandez transitioned from a top outfield prospect to bouncing around the farm systems of various organizations, unable to earn consistent playing time as a starter at the major league level.
A day before the conclusion of the regular season’s first month in 2005, the Detroit Tigers signed a 17-year-old undrafted free agent in Hernandez, who quickly gained traction as one of the organization’s most intriguing prospects.
Standing at 6’0” and a lean 175 pounds, Hernandez wasn’t turning too many heads when he participated in the Venezuelan Summer League shortly after his signing, batting .265 over 63 games, but the outfielder quickly gained attention after a strong 2006 campaign.
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Over 50 games in the Gulf Coast League, Hernandez put together a season which immediately put him on notice, complementing a league-leading .327 batting average with a .384 weighted on-base average, a wRC+ of 138, 20 stolen bases on 24 attempts, and five home runs. Hernandez further proved his value when he was named a GCL Postseason All-Star.
Heading into 2007 as the No. 7 prospect of the Tigers organization according to Baseball America, Hernandez continued to impress with the Class-A West Michigan Whitecaps, batting .293, leading the Midwest League with 54 steals, and earning a nomination as a Mid-Season All-Star, Postseason All-Star. a spot in the Futures Game. As the cherry on top, Hernandez was named to World Team in the Futures Game and the Midwest League MVP.
Following his third season of professional baseball, the Tigers traded Hernandez and fellow prospect Jair Jurrjens to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Edgar Renteria, who would win World Series MVP in 2010 for none other than San Francisco Giants. Baseball America named Hernandez the No. 5 prospect in Atlanta’s farm system before the start of 2008.
Over the next five seasons, Hernandez could not replicate the same level of success he produced in the Tigers organization. From 2008 to 2012, Hernandez hit at a decent clip of .272 and swiped 90 bases, but his subpar plate discipline emerged as his Achilles heel as his strikeout percentage jumped from a combined 12.8% in 2006 and 2007 to 20.4%. His walk rate could not compensate for his increasing strikeout percentage with an average clip of 8.4%.
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With a slash line of .316/.361/.387 and ten steals through 52 games for the Double-A Mississippi Braves, Atlanta coupled Hernandez with Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton in a blockbuster trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Nate McClouth on June 3rd, 2009.
Hernandez made his way through Pittsburgh’s minor league system and debuted with the Steel City in 2012, but lasted only 25 games before the Pirates sent him to the Miami Marlins along with a 2013 draft pick in exchange for Gaby Sanchez and Kyle Kaminska. The once highly touted prospect ended his first big league season with a horrid slash line of .192/.267/.301. The trade to Miami officially kicked off the constantly changing organizations Hernandez joined, playing in the minor-league systems of the Kansas City Royals in 2013, the Chicago White Sox in 2014, and the Pirates once more in 2015, albeit he did play in eight major league games.
Heading into 2017, Hernandez now looks to find some stability moving forward with the San Francisco Giants after a promising season. As a member of the Sacramento River Cats, Hernandez earned a Midseason All-Star selection, finishing the year with an average of .302 as well as eight home runs and 20 stolen bases over 116 games. He exhibited better plate discipline, boasting a BB% of 10.3% with a K% of 15.3%. San Francisco promoted Hernandez to replaced an injured Gregor Blanco in late August, and the outfielder performed well enough to spark future interest, batting .259 with two home runs in 57 plate appearances.
Strange as it may seem, the Giants’ signing of Mark Melancon is largely the reason Hernandez has a chance at cracking the Opening Day roster. Speaking hypothetically, if Bobby Evans failed to sign one of the three big-name closers and settled for a cheaper option, San Francisco’s GM may have tried to sign a big-name outfielder, to fill the left field vacancy. If San Francisco signs a left fielder, Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker likely become the only two outfielders on the bench and push Hernandez out of the equation, barring an injury. There are many huge assumptions in that scenario, but Hernandez beating out both Parker and Williamson for a spot on the bench seems highly unlikely.
While the opportunity for Hernandez to seize a spot is present, his spot on the team is not guaranteed, namely due to San Francisco’s signing of Michael Morse. Hernandez’s versatility gives him more value than Morse, but a resurgence this spring from the former postseason hero may swing the odds in his favor.
Hernandez combines his speed with an average glove and a fairly solid arm for center field, all of which would allow Bruce Bochy to utilize him as, at the minimum, a defensive replacement and pinch-runner. Despite his frame, Hernandez has a decent supply of raw power, hitting 42 home runs in his minor league career and two in limited plate appearances with the San Francisco Giants.
By far, Hernandez’s most glaring concern continues to be his poor plate discipline. Despite eleven years of professional baseball, Hernandez continues to churn out low walk rates and high strikeout rates. He has a tendency to swing at the first pitch, which places him behind in the count and allows opposing pitchers to exploit his aggressiveness at the plate further by feeding him junk in the dirt. Furthermore, Hernandez has a tendency to overswing even when behind in the count, and on occasion try to do too much with a pitch rather than take what pitchers give him. While his power is an asset, Hernandez is better off trying to play small ball rather than aim for the fences, especially at AT&T Park.
With Parker and Williamson likely to occupy two spots on the bench, Hernandez is a solid option to play off their strengths. Having a speedster with a decent glove in Hernandez to accompany the raw power of Parker and Williamson is more logical than another power threat in Morse. The question of whether the San Francisco Giants will opt for a fifth outfielder at all still remains up in the air, but should the team take that path, Hernandez should remain in the conversation.
Stay tuned to Around the Foghorn for all your Giants news and analysis as we enter 2017!