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Hernandez impressing Tigers, scouts07/02/2007 3:33 PM ET
By Evan Mohl / MLB.com
You can never have too many guys up the middle.
That's what Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski seems to think.
While some Major League teams would love to have just one center fielder, Detroit is loaded with them. 26-year-old Curtis Granderson currently patrols center at Comerica Park while super prospect Cameron Maybin is tearing through the Minors, earning a spot on the U.S. Team in the 2007 Futures Game.
Get ready to add another one to the list.
Gorkys Hernandez, currently playing with Detroit's Class A West Michigan Whitecaps, will also be attending the 2007 Futures Game in San Francisco. He'll also be playing center field -- for the World Team.
"I'm very excited to go," said Hernandez. "I'm very proud to represent my country."
When the Tigers originally signed Hernandez out of Venezuela back in April 2005, it didn't garner much attention. It became even less newsworthy when the center fielder batted a pedestrian .265 in 63 games in the Dominican Summer League.
It's funny how quickly things can change.
One year later, Hernandez put himself on the map by crushing Gulf Coast League pitching as an 18-year-old. He led the circuit in batting average (.327), runs (41), and hits (67). He ranked second with 20 stolen bases.
"He made everybody watch him and made everybody want to watch him," said Tigers farm director Glenn Ezell. "He has wonderful instincts and is just a pleasure to be around."
After his stellar year with the GCL Tigers, Hernandez came into this season with some national recognition. So far, he's lived up to the billing. He's hitting .295 with 81 hits, 39 runs and an invitation to the 2007 Futures Game.
Hernandez's greatest strengths are his speed and baseball instincts. He looks comfortable patrolling center field for the Whitecaps as he has committed just four errors in 69 games. The Venezuelan can chase down almost any fly ball, making it look easy.
"He doesn't look like he can fly, but then he'll get to baseballs in the outfield that make you shake your head and say 'wow,'" Ezell said. "He can cover ground."
Whitecaps manager Tom Brookens raves about his 19-year-old center fielder. He said Hernandez's instincts on defense rarely leave him out of position and he always has a chance to make a play on a ball.
Hernandez's speed and good instincts come in handy on the base paths, too. He leads the Midwest League with 30 stolen bases and has been caught a mere six times when attempting a steal -- a success rate of 83 percent.
"Speed is a big advantage that I have," Hernandez said. "And I'll use it whenever I can."
While his statistics might suggest otherwise, the transition from Venezuela to the United States has not been all fun and games. He speaks very little English, is adjusting to the food and is far away from home. His girlfriend still lives in Venezuela. The center fielder tries to talk to her everyday either on the phone or via the Internet.
"It was a big transition," said Hernandez. "But I came here to succeed and work hard."
Hernandez said his greatest weakness right now is his batting. While a .295 average is nothing to be ashamed of, the center fielder has just one home run. Hernandez, a righty, has strangely struggled against left-handed pitchers. He's hitting just .253 off of southpaws compared to .310 versus righties.
Benny Distefano, the Whitecaps' hitting coach, said there are even other areas where Hernandez could improve at the plate. Distefano wants the Venezuelan to add a drag bunt to his repertoire and use his speed while batting.
"If the third baseman comes in, he's got the ability to drive the ball by him," said Distefano. "So it's just another tool for him to be successful."
Hernandez, though, continues to improve and impress, and the Tigers couldn't be happier.
"I wish I had an organization full of instinctive players like him," said Ezell.
As for being blocked on his path to the Majors by Maybin and Granderson, Hernandez isn't too concerned. The Venezuelan welcomes the competition as a way to push him to grow and develop. He even suggested the possibility of making the big leagues and playing alongside Maybin and Granderson.
"It's very good for my growth and getting better as a ballplayer," said Hernandez. "I hope it continues this way for a long time."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.