With 25 weeks to go until the LA Angels first pitch of 2018, there’s no better time to check in on the team’s top prospects. Check back every Monday for the newest article! This week, it is Wilkel Hernandez.
The LA Angels signed Wilkel Hernandez as an international free agent in 2015. The right-handed pitcher out of Venezuela was just 16 years old at the time. However, early signs point to it being a worthwhile risk for the Halos.
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Hernandez signed for a meager $125,000 in 2015. Most of the money was based on the projections for Hernandez and his 6’3″ frame. At just 160 pounds, Hernandez still has a lot of room to build muscle and mature.
His money making pitch is his fastball. He can already hit 95 mph at times, and that will only go up as he adds muscle. He has a quick delivery, but struggles with keeping it consistent. His secondary pitches project to be average at best. However, he has shown confidence in throwing his changeup.
Hernandez will not show up in Anaheim until the next decade. The Halos and their fans will have to remain patient with him, but early signs show he will be worth the wait. After an impressive year in the Dominican Summer League, Hernandez made the jump to the States for the 2017 season. He owned the Rookie League, posting a 2.64 ERA in 12 games (seven starts).
One encouraging sign was his ability to create soft contact. Hitters had a a hard time driving the ball deep against him, as evidenced by his 0.2 home runs per nine innings. He struck out hitters at a high rate (44) but also walked them consistently (22). If he can figure out his delivery, Hernandez can be much more than his current projection as a third or fourth man in a rotation.
Angels Comparison: Parker Bridwell
The first thing that sticks out is that both pitchers have lanky frames, but have quick deliveries. Much Bridwell, Hernandez forces soft contact. Neither of them allow deep shots, but also struggle with control at times. One thing Hernandez does better than Bridwell is strike people out. While Bridwell struck people out at a respectable rate of 5.4 per nine innings, Hernandez’s 8.9 per nine innings is very impressive in his first year.
Bridwell turned in a stellar year for the Angels in 2017. A few years down the road, Hernandez may be the eventual replacement (and possible upgrade) for the surprising starting pitcher.