NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas Travelers first baseman Brian Hernandez is not playing his natural position or hitting in his natural spot.
Yet Hernandez is just being himself, and in doing so, he played himself into All-Star and prospect status this year.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Angels prospect started at first and hit cleanup in Tuesday's Texas League All-Star Game at Dickey-Stephens Park. He went 1-for-3, doubling and scoring a run in the South's 3-1 victory.
Neither a first baseman nor a cleanup hitter by nature, Hernandez was taken out of the University of California-Irvine in the 27th round of the 2011 Draft and he welcomed the All-Star start as validation he's doing something right.
"It¹s really cool. Especially whereas I started in A-ball this year and then I got up here, I've been able to prove myself a little bit," Hernandez said. "I know that I can play here and it¹s just nice to be able to get a little bit of recognition."
The native of Sylmar, California native is hitting .314 with four home runs and 31 RBIs in 56 games. He is in his second stint with the Travelers but much more comfortable than in 2012, when he hit .249 in 65 games with Arkansas.
"A little bit of the pressure has been taken off," said Hernandez, who was batting just .190 at Class A Advanced Inland Empire when he was promoted April 23. "I was down in A-ball trying to do too much. I got back up here, I just tried to be myself. The park's not too hitter-friendly, so I try to put the ball on the ground and stay with my swing right there."
In Dickey-Stephens Park with its 375-foot distance to the left-field wall and 415-foot left-center gap, Hernandez bats cleanup. He became the first Traveler to hit a home run at the team's notoriously pitcher-friendly home park this year on May 10, but doesn't claim to be a long-ball hitter or even a natural cleanup guy.
"Early in my career, I hit in the four-hole a couple times," Hernandez said. "I tried to be a prototypical four-hitter and that's not me. If I'm in the four-hole this year, I just try to stay with my same approach, hit line drives over the second baseman's head. I've found a little bit of success."
But Hernandez, third on the Travelers in RBIs, has assured himself playing time by moving across to the diamond to first. Though listed as a third baseman, Hernandez has played first or been the designated hitter, with one in-game shift to shortstop, since coming back to Double A.
"Slowly I'm getting a little more comfortable at first base," Hernandez said. "I¹m trying to master it. It doesn't hurt to be able to play both sides of the infield.
"You've got to be flexible," he added. "All the injuries and stuff nowadays, up there, the more positions you can play the more value you have to the team. It's really important."
Growing up in the Los Angeles area, Hernandez has had his eye on the Angels since long before he was drafted. He has always been an Angels fan and his father, Ramon, even named his son after former Angels player Brian Downing.
Hernandez, who took his parents to Monday night's All-Star gala, said he was at practice with his UC-Irvine teammates preparing for an NCAA Super Regional when he learned he¹d been drafted.
"Everybody always gave me a hard time for liking the Angels over the Dodgers, but I'm pretty fired up, I'm still fired up to be an Angel," Hernandez said.
He was also stoked to be a part of the hosting team for the midsummer classic.
"It's really nice to be able to have the home crowd behind us," Hernandez said. "Actually my parents are here and it's really nice to have them be out here for that."
Todd Traub is a contributor to MiLB.com.