A long-held baseball belief is that the most difficult jump a minor-leaguer makes is from High A to Double A.
The hitters at Double A are more polished, the pitchers have better stuff, and players are good enough to be called up to the majors without going to Triple A.
So, it’s not unheard of for a player to struggle initially after a promotion. The organization is more curious about how he makes the adjustment.
The Rangers were pleased with what they saw from the pitcher at No. 6 in the Star-Telegram’s countdown of the top 10 Rangers prospects.
No. 6: RHP Jonathan Hernandez
Born: July 6, 1996
Height: 6-foot-2. Weight: 173 pounds.
How acquired: Non-drafted free agent, 2013
No one has said that right-hander Jonathan Hernandez doesn’t have stuff.
But it’s not just good stuff. It’s electric stuff.
A big fastball that moves all over. A hard slider that seems unhittable at times. A changeup good enough to make life unfair for opposing hitters.
It’s big-league-type stuff.
“I would compare him to a Luis Severino,” fellow Rangers prospect Taylor Hearn said. “Honestly, I think he’s got that stuff. He’s a hard-working guy, he’s a great teammate, but watching him pitch ... watching him pitch is unreal. Everything he throws is electric. He’s got a hard slider. He’s got a hard fastball that sits in the high-90s. Everything he throws is just amazing.”
Hearn only saw Hernandez over the final month of the Double A Frisco season following the Keone Kela trade. He saw the good Hernandez, the one who was dominant over the first half of the season at High A Down East and earned a midseason promotion.
Hernandez did so with a fastball that touched 99 mph and sat a 94-97, and a slider he can throw for strikes or to wipe out hitters. The changeup is improving.
For half of June and almost all of July, though, Hernandez struggled like he never had. He couldn’t throw strikes, he couldn’t slow offenses down, and he couldn’t get out of his own way.
Until he did.
“At the beginning I was really tough as I tried to make adjustments to the hitters,” Hernandez said. “But lately I’ve been getting my confidence and I was getting everything right. I was trying to be too fine here. After that I was thinking that the stuff I have can survive everywhere. I just started pitching like I did in Down East, and everything turned around.”
It’s safe to break down Hernandez’s 2018 campaign into thirds — High East, initial eight Double A starts, final four Double A starts.
Down East: 10 starts, 4-2 record, 2.20 ERA, 77 strikeouts, 17 walks.
Frisco I: 8 starts, 2-4 record, 7.14 ERA, 30 strikeouts, 26 walks.
Frisco II: 4 starts, 2-0 record, 1.14 ERA, 27 strikeouts, 10 walks.
Rock bottom was allowing nine runs in 5 2/3 innings July 27 at San Antonio. After that, Hernandez allowed only three more runs the rest of the season. He dropped his Frisco ERA to 4.92 from the post-San Antonio high.
“Jonathan’s shown a pattern of making adjustments after a month or so at each new level,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “We saw that in Frisco. Once he got used to the level of competition, he dominated.”
Hernandez said that overall he accomplished his season goals. He exceeded by 6 1/3 innings the 115 plateau he hoped to reached, and he was healthy all season.
He also put himself on the radar for 2019, even though he was in big-league spring training for the first time this year. Like the good prospects, he said he’s not worried about when he will arrive on the Rangers’ roster.
Hernandez is confident that it will happen at some point soon.
“I’m going to make it up there some day,” he said. “Spring training was a great experience for me, being around all those guys.”
Star-Telegram Top 10 Rangers prospects
No. 10: Cole Ragans
No. 9: Tyler Phillips
No. 8: Joe Palumbo
No. 7: Taylor Hearn
No. 6: Jonathan Hernandez
No. 5: Monday
No. 4: Tuesday
No. 3: Wednesday
No. 2: Thursday
No. 1: Friday