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Predict the future -- David Hernandez

How many Ravens fans watched the Super Bowl last night? If you didn't watch, I won't pass along the bad news about which team won. You can figure it out.

Last week, we shared our predictions for the upcoming season for Jason Berken, who seems to be overshadowed by the other pitching prospects in the Orioles' minor league system. I don't know if it's a sign of his anonymity amongst fans, but less people commented on the entry about Berken than the other young pitchers we've discussed.

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Still, the fans that participated in the debate, for the most part, think he deserves an opportunity. As long as he continues to pitch with minimal walks and home runs, then the 25-year-old right-hander should definitely get a chance to prove he belongs in the major leagues.

With the Orioles' surplus of starting pitchers in the organization, Berken's long-term future could be in the bullpen. It seems plausible, but there's no reason to mess with success if he keeps performing well as a starter. I know Orioles fans would enjoy having less walks and home runs allowed by the starting rotation.

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Speaking of pitchers who give up a lot of walks and home runs, let's discuss right-handed pitcher David Hernandez today.In four seasons, the 23-year-old starting pitcher has allowed 41 home runs and 206 walks in 473 innings in the minor leagues. While pitching for the Double-A Bowie Baysox in 2008, Hernandez led the Eastern League with 71 walks in 141 innings. He surrendered 10 home runs, which is low compared to the 16 he gave up as a member of the Single-A Frederick Keys in 145 1/3 innings during the 2007 season.

Despite the high amount of walks and home runs, Hernandez only has a 3.94 ERA so far in his minor league career. He was 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA last season, which was the third-best ERA in the league. Hernandez, who had a 4.95 ERA for the Keys in 2007, reduced his ERA by more than two full runs last season.

It's pretty impressive that Hernandez, who the Orioles selected in the 16th round of the 2005 MLB draft, was able to pitch well despite his control issues in 2008. It remains to be seen, however, if the walks will catch up to him as he climbs the organizational ladder.

Personally, I think Hernandez is a pitcher who goes beyond statistics. I've seen him pitch in person several times, and he always seems to have solid command on the mound. In fact, I wouldn't even think about his control issues if I didn't already know about them from the statistics. Perhaps I've only watched Hernandez on good days, but there are definitely positive characteristics that could make him a successful major league pitcher in the future.

Hernandez should receive a good look in spring training, but he'll likely begin the season with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. The Orioles know he needs to improve his control before earning a spot in the major leagues, but it's good to get the major league staff working with him.

In the best-case scenario, Hernandez will pitch the entire 2009 season in Norfolk. He'll cut down the walks and home runs, and have an ERA below 3.50. Like Berken, Hernandez could be one of the first players called up to the major leagues in the event of an injury, but that's only if he shows that he's capable of reducing the free passes. He might be able to pitch out of trouble in the minor leagues, but it gets a lot tougher when you're facing the best hitters in professional baseball.

What are your thoughts about Hernandez? Do you believe he should be considered a strong candidate to pitch for the Orioles, or are you tired of pitchers with a high number of walks? Do you think Hernandez will ever be able to improve his control? Does it matter?

Let me hear your predictions about Hernandez's future with the organization.

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Check out previous installments of "Predict the future" by clicking on the links below:

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