Gorkys Gustavo Hernández was born September 7, 1987 in Güiria, Venezuela, and signed as a free agent in 2005 with the Detroit Tigers at 17.
He spent the 2006 season with the GCL Lakeland Tigers, and he burned through the Rookie League.
Hernandez won the batting title in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .327/.356/.463. with five homers, 23 RBI, and 41 runs to go with 20 stolen bases in 205 at-bats. Noted for his speed and his ability to steal bases, the Tigers had him penciled him in as their future lead off hitter.
After the smoke cleared from his debut, Hernandez found himself on all the prospect lists - #3 Baseball America Top GCL Prospect; #3 Baseball Prospectus Top Tiger Prospect, #6 Fox Sports Top Tiger Prospect; and #5 Minor League Ball Prospect. Nothin' like a running start, hey?
The motor kept purring during his first full-time pro season with the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps. He was named the Midwest League MVP after hitting .293 with four homers, 50 RBIs, 84 runs, and 54 steals.
The youngster was named a Midwest League All-Star and competed in the All-Star Futures Game for the World Team (ex-Bucco catcher Robby Diaz was his teammate). Though he didn't need a world atlas, a US road map would come in handy.
On November 16, 2007, Hernández was traded by the Tigers along with Jair Jurrjens to the Braves for shortstop Edgar Rentería. He entered 2008 as the fifth-best prospect in the Atlanta organization according to BA, but ominously behind Jason Heyward and Jordan Schafer, two other center fielders. And ya know what three is...
He went to High A Myrtle Beach, and hit .264 with five homers, 51 RBI, and 75 runs. Hernandez pulled a hammy that season, and ended up with just 20 swipes. The Venezuelan was still in demand, and was one of the names bantered about in the Jake Peavy talks (along with Charlie Morton and Jeffrey Locke).
The so-so year didn't hurt his standings; besides being a Top-Ten Brave prospect, Baseball America ranked him #62 and Baseball Prospectus pegged him at #78 nationally.
The Braves promoted him to AA Mississippi in 2009, where he hit .316. He was only there for a few weeks, though. On June 3, 2009, Atlanta shipped Hernández, Morton, and Locke to the Pirates in exchange for Nate McLouth, accompanied by much local gnashing of teeth. He hit .262 at Altoona, not exactly PNC-inspiring numbers.
What the Bucs have is a kid - he just turned 22 - who's been promoted aggressively through three levels by three organizations in three years. Hernandez needs to catch his breath; he has plenty to work on.
First, he needs to really improve his discipline, both at the dish and in the dugout. He was yanked from two games in 2009 because of the occasional drama queen act, arguing balls and strikes once and not running out a ball another time.
His walks and K's, especially for a guy that projects as a top of the order hitter, are trending the wrong way - during his career, he has almost a 19% strikeout rate, and just over a 7% walk rate. Those are OBP killers.
Hernandez doesn't have a lot of power, and will depend on his wheels to get him to the show. In Rookie and Class A ball, he stole 94 bases in 113 attempts, an 83% success rate. Last year, in combined AA, Hernandez swiped 19 sacks out of 35 tries, just 54%. He has to pick up some smarts to go with his speed.
He's fortunate not to be blocked by Andrew McCutchen (thank God for PNC's left field!); we think he's a younger version of Nyjer Morgan, even matching the inside-out swing, with a better set of tools. And his glove, arm, and range are already MLB quality. The Pirates have him protected on the 40-man roster.
But Hernandez could easily find himself dangled as trade bait, too, especially with Robbie Grossman and Starling Marte on the rise and Lastings Milledge and Jose Tabata ahead of him now. The Pirate outfield is their strength organizationally, not very deep but with some top-end prospects.
So he's a guy who's trying to find a place in Pittsburgh's pecking order. We suspect that the suits will continue his fast track and start him at Indy, although an argument could be made to keep him at Altoona and let him follow Tabata in the same way Tabata shadowed McCutchen. (EDIT - Hernandez will start 2010 at Altoona)
(Next - #8 Rudy Owens)