Gorkys making a name for himself
Tigers expect young prospect to develop into big-time player
COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. -- In a loaded Tigers farm system, it is easy to forget about a player like Gorkys Hernandez. While most Tigers fans have become very familiar with the names of highly-touted outfield prospects like Cameron Maybin and Brent Clevlen, Hernandez is a name that people are just beginning to discover.
So far, Hernandez has had little trouble this season making the jump in his first turn with a full-season team at Class A West Michigan. The 19-year-old entered the year ranked seventh among Tigers prospects according to Baseball America, after hitting .327 last year in the short-season Gulf Coast League -- tied for the highest average among Tigers farmhands. He has followed that up by hitting .312 this year at West Michigan.
As a teenager with a still-growing frame at six feet and 175 pounds, Hernandez has had enough challenges to overcome in the transition to full-season ball. Add in the fact that the native Venezuelan speaks almost no English, and it's still a cultural adjustment, too. Though there's no translator or bilingual players on the Whitecaps' roster, West Michigan manager Tom Brookens said Hernandez's work ethic and natural instincts mean there isn't much the two need to say to each other.
"You don't necessarily need to speak to have a good [relationship] with someone," Brookens said. "He knows what I'm trying to get across to him and I understand what he's saying. You can't necessarily sit down and have a conversation with him, but he understands baseball talk."
More importantly, Hernandez understands pure baseball.
"I wish I had a full organization full of instinctive players like him," player development director Glenn Ezell said. "Even with the significant language barrier, sometimes if a player has good instincts, that takes care of the language barrier. Baseball is universal."
His skills need no translation. Brookens said Hernandez has an arm that is Major League ready and already the most accurate on the team. His instincts on defense rarely leave him out of position, and he always has a chance to make a play on a ball.
The only adjustment for Hernandez has been an abundance of aggressiveness, something Brookens actually prefers to see in a player. He's not a speedburner, but he gets more out of his legs than others because of his mindset. As Ezell put it, he has good speed that he uses right.
"I've seen some other good 19-year-olds, and does he play like a 19-year old? In some respects, he does," said Brookens, who has spent the past two years managing his share of teenagers at short-season Oneonta. "He's very aggressive on the basepaths. He makes mistakes out there, which is good, because it's hard to teach somebody to be aggressive. You'd sooner tell a guy, 'This is a situation you don't run in,' than to try and get some guy to run when he's afraid to run.
"Gorkys is not afraid to run. He plays like a 19-year-old in the fact that he makes some young, aggressive mistakes, which I personally like. I like that in a player. But his ability and the way he plays the outfield, he looks more like a veteran."
The more he grows, physically as well as mentally, the more he'll look like a veteran.
Like many players at the low Class A level, Hernandez's consistency at the plate needs to improve, but team officials expect that should come with time as he continues to work his way through the Tigers' system. The power numbers aren't there yet, with no homers in 93 at-bats this season, but that's expected to blossom once his body grows.
"I'm not going to worry about his power right now," Ezell said. "I think his body is going to get a whole lot stronger. I don't even come close to thinking about that. I'm thinking about him playing every day. I'm thinking about him being a good defensive player."
Coaches, meanwhile, are thinking about developing the offense he has now.
"The way Gorkys runs, being able to lay down a drag bunt would be a huge benefit to his game," said hitting coach Benny Distefano, who coached Hernandez in the Gulf Coast League last season. "If the third baseman comes in, he's got the ability to drive the ball by him, so it's just another tool for him to be successful."
Hernandez seems able to adapt to any situation. He had never seen snow before he arrived in Michigan, and said that was his biggest adjustment after two seasons in Florida and the Venezuelan Summer League.
The snow didn't seem to faze him, even after a game was snowed out in Dayton earlier this season. Hernandez made a snowman with the rest of his teammates and dressed it up in full Whitecaps attire.
"It's very cold here," Hernandez said through team trainer Jay Pierson, who can communicate with Hernandez if necessary, but admittedly is not fluent in Spanish.
Others who know the language and culture have helped him along the way. Hernandez has utilized the advice from fellow Venezuelans Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez. He's a bit of an understudy to Guillen, even if they play different positions. He wears No. 9 because of Guillen and looks like he could pass as Guillen's kid brother, right down to the trademark bump in the lower lip.
"They just tell me to work hard every day," Hernandez said.
If he keeps doing that, he could join the Tigers' crowded outfield picture in the coming years. Maybin just turned 20 in April. Curtis Granderson is still only 26, and Clevlen is developing in Toledo at just 23.
All three can play center field. So can Hernandez, whom the Tigers don't foresee moving from the outfield anytime soon.
"It's tough to project because he's quite a ways away from being in the Major Leagues," Distefano said. "But I see him as being an everyday center fielder. But if he does make it to the big leagues, you're going to have to do different things. He can come off the bench and run, or he can play the corners. He's going to be a very valuable player on somebody's ballclub some day."
Tim Kirby is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.