With pitchers and catchers reporting in a week, where will 23-year old righty, Jonathan Hernandez, find himself to start the Texas Rangers 2020 season?
Last season saw the Texas Rangers push a flurry of young pitchers through the minors and on to Arlington as the club began evaluating their prospect capital in a non-playoff season. The club has been gearing up for the 2020 season and beyond for a few years with a focus on prospect development at focal point within the organization.
In 2019, we saw Joe Palumbo and Taylor Hearn make their debuts as well as newly acquired lefties Kolby Allard and Brock Burke. Those four all profile as starters but the Rangers relief prospects made appearances too with Pete Fairbanks and Emmanuel Clase skyrocketing through the system. All impressed to varying degrees with Fairbanks and Clase building enough value to be used in trades that netted the Rangers Nick Solak midseason and former Indians’ ace Corey Kluber this winter. The Texas rotation looks to be short on opportunities now following a busy offseason but Jonathan Hernandez could be one young pitcher that can adapt and force his way into the big league bullpen come Opening Day.
Hernandez, son of former big leaguer Fernando Hernandez, has had a slow progression through the Texas Rangers minor league system after signing as an international free agent in January of 2013 for just $300,000. At 17, he made an early impression in the system and made his US debut in 2015 with the Rangers Rookie-League affiliate. After a few seasons of slow climbing, 2018 was a bit of a breakout season for Hernandez who began the season with High-A Down East and posted a 2.20 ERA in 10 starts. The eye opening stat for Hernandez though was his 12.1 K/9 for the Wood Ducks. He earned his first Double-A stint in 2018 and made 12 starts with a 4.92 ERA.
He returned to Frisco to start the 2019 season making 22 appearances, 16 of which were starts. His 5.16 ERA was not what many hoped but he did get a late season look with the Rangers and was fairly impressive in his short stint. His 10.3 K/9 rate in 16.2 innings was promising but he’ll have to reduce his 7.0 BB/9 rate moving forward. What’s interesting although not all that surprising is that Hernandez worked predominantly as a reliever for the Rangers, a role that could see him stick in the big leagues for the 2020 season.
Right now, the question around Jonathan Hernandez’s future is centered on whether he can be a long-term starter, or if he can make the best use of his high-velocity fastball as a late inning reliever. Hernandez has worked his fastball into the upper-90’s and features a slider that has the makings of a plus secondary pitch. His other pitchers aren’t to the level of the fastball and slider which raises the concerns about his viability at a starter. However, a two pitch combo could play nicely as a late inning reliever.
While the Rangers have a number of players on Major League and minors deals competing for relief roles, they have few with the pure stuff that Hernandez possesses. Additionally, the Rangers only have one truly defined relief role entering 2020 which is Jose Leclerc as the closer. Everything else is more or less up in the air. If Hernandez can impress in Spring Training, he has a legitimate shot to open the year in Arlington.
The key is whether the Rangers want him to continue developing as a starter or if they are willing to concede, at least for the meantime, that his most immediate value is in the bullpen. If they feel like Hernandez has any future as a starter, it would make sense to play the long game and let him be a part of a Triple-A rotation that is set to be stacked next season. With plenty of storylines to watch this spring, Jonathan Hernandez will be among the most interesting.