Over the last month we’ve gone heavily with the #FreeAlexPresley and #FreeMattHague campaigns, but what about Gorkys Hernandez? It’s been easy to forget about Hernandez. Once one of the top prospects in baseball, Hernandez stalled out at the AA level. He joined the Pirates from the the Atlanta Braves in the Nate McLouth trade, and hit for a .249/.306/.310 line in his first 526 at-bats in the organization. Hernandez started to rebound around June 2010, and hit for a .306/.369/.414 line until the point where he went down for the season with a broken finger.
Hernandez is starting to rebound at the AAA level, after getting off to a slow .246/.324/.308 line in 65 April at-bats. He raised his average to .283 in the month of May, but only had a .708 OPS. However, for the second year in a row, Gorkys caught fire in June. Since the month of June started, Hernandez has been hitting for a .336/.369/.491 line in 116 at-bats. The question now is, do the Pirates put Hernandez in their long term plans, or do they use him as trade bait?
The Trade Bait Argument
Hernandez is playing well, but we have to consider his upside, and the situation the Pirates are in. He doesn’t hit for much power, and is basically limited to extra base hits in that regard. He’s got some speed on the bases, leading to 15 steals in 19 attempts this year, although he’s known to make some bad base running decisions. He’s dealt with strikeouts in the past, and is at 21.5% this year, which isn’t good for a guy who doesn’t have a lot of power and doesn’t draw a lot of walks. His main strength is that he plays strong defense in center field, possibly the best defensive center fielder in the system. Add in the fact that he’s hitting for average and has the speed needed to steal bases, and you’ve got an interesting prospect.
The thing is, the Pirates aren’t in dire need of a guy like Hernandez. They have Andrew McCutchen in center field right now. They have Jose Tabata in left field (granted he’s currently on the disabled list, but I’m talking long term here). They’re currently giving Alex Presley a shot, and he seems to be doing well in the role. They also have top prospect Starling Marte tearing it up at the AA level, one step behind Hernandez. Hernandez doesn’t really fit in to the long term plans, and might have some value due to his recent surge.
The #FreeGorkysHernandez Argument
One thing you never want to do is say “the Pirates have Player A in the minors, so they don’t need Player B”. I wouldn’t even make that statement when you’re referring to a young player in the majors. Yes, the Pirates have McCutchen, Tabata, and Presley at the major league level, with Marte tearing it up at the AA level. But what do you have there? You’ve got one outfield position covered by an established player (McCutchen), you’ve got a guy who has been inconsistent (Tabata), a guy who was just called up from AAA (Presley), and a guy who has spent half a season above A-ball (Marte). There’s no guarantee of a long term Tabata/McCutchen/Marte outfield.
We also have to consider that Hernandez turns 24 in September. He’s only in his first run through the AAA level, and he’s not really a finished product. He’s one year younger than Neil Walker was in 2010, when he saw a major turnaround and went from a future super utility player to a future starting second baseman. Hernandez is a future strong defensive center fielder that has speed and can hit for average, making him a leadoff candidate, or a strong option lower in the lineup. Who says he can’t improve on that evaluation with the right change in the next year?
There’s also the fact that some hitting prospects just aren’t worth much. A grade B hitter will fetch a nice return, but a guy who profiles as an average starter in the majors (and that’s a safe bet for Hernandez) isn’t going to get a huge return, mostly because there isn’t much upside, and the upside the player does have isn’t guaranteed. Therefore, the Pirates might be better off taking their chances with Hernandez, rather than going with the type of player they could get by dealing him away.
Time is running short on Hernandez. He will have one option year remaining heading in to 2012, which means he has to be up for good in 2013. The Pirates will have a lot of guys who need to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season. They also have a lot of outfield candidates, although you can’t really make the argument that they’re set at the position. If the right deal comes along, I take the risk. If someone considered Hernandez close to a Grade B value (which alone, a Grade B hitter would be the key piece needed to acquire a player like Carlos Beltran, just to put that value in perspective) then the Pirates might be better off dealing him. If his value is more of a Grade C value, they might as well hold on to him. After all, depth in the minors isn’t a bad thing, as it’s nice to keep successful prospects locked up in AAA, ready to be free only when an unfortunate injury rolls around.