'I’m hungrier than ever': This prospect is knocking on the door of the Majors

February 24th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- knows his time is coming.

Once his hot start at Double-A Midland last season earned him a promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas after just 71 games, Hernaiz immediately saw his name constantly mentioned as a potential September callup for the A’s.

The Major League call did not come for Hernaiz, though it was not for lack of production. Between the two levels, he hit .321/.386/.456 with nine homers, 32 doubles, four triples and 71 RBIs in 131 games. It was a performance that accelerated his path to the Majors and has him knocking at the door for 2024.

“I saw him in Spring Training, and by the time he got to the [2023] season, he was a different guy,” A’s director of player development Ed Sprague said of Hernaiz. “This guy can really hit. Great bat-to-ball skills. … It was just impressive. He brought way more to the team than what we were expecting.”

There is little doubt that Hernaiz -- ranked as Oakland’s No. 9 prospect by MLB Pipeline -- will get his big league chance this year. The only question is, when?

As it stands, he sits behind Nick Allen on the depth chart at shortstop, his primary position. However, with Cactus League play getting underway on Saturday for the A’s against the Rockies at Hohokam Stadium, manager Mark Kotsay has indicated that Hernaiz will spend time this spring at third base, a spot that remains without an established starter.

The hot corner was a black hole for the A’s in 2023, with six players combining to hit .192 with a .556 OPS and 10 home runs in 618 plate appearances. Given Hernaiz's offensive numbers during his Minor League career -- .291/.357/.417 slash line with 106 extra-base hits, 29 homers and 193 RBIs in 359 games -- he's right in the mix at third base with players such as Jordan Diaz, Aledmys Díaz, Abraham Toro and Brett Harris, Oakland's No. 10 prospect per MLB Pipeline.

While Hernaiz has spent most of his time in the Minors at short (2136 1/3 innings), he's familiar enough with third (274 2/3 innings).

“I’ve always had confidence, but last year solidified it,” Hernaiz said. “I’m hungrier than ever to prove to the world and myself that I’m ready. I’m motivated. But at the end of the day, nothing matters unless you’re in the big leagues and proving it there.”

To better prepare himself for the game’s highest level, Hernaiz surrounded himself with elite Major League talent this offseason by working out at the Exos facility in Phoenix. Alex Bregman, Matt Chapman and Jarred Kelenic are among the bevy of stars who Hernaiz spent countless hours training alongside.

“I focused a lot on driving the ball a little bit more without trying to,” Hernaiz said. “Last year, I kind of wanted to hit homers sometimes, so I worked on letting that come to me organically versus forcing it. Also, last year I didn’t steal as many bases, so I was working a lot on my speed. I definitely want to steal more this year.”

For a player taking part in his first big league camp, Hernaiz seems to fit right in with the rest of the group. The 22-year-old’s maturity has already left a strong first impression on Kotsay.

“I just like the way he carries himself,” Kotsay said. “He obviously has some confidence, which is key at this level to have success. It doesn’t look like he’s lost or scared. He has a mindset that he wants to make this team, and he’s going to go out and try to do everything he can.”

Hernaiz’s ascent through the Minors has come while also having to adjust to a completely new environment. Joining the A’s last offseason from Baltimore as the return for left-hander Cole Irvin, Hernaiz has only spent a year in the organization.

“I feel like I kind of had to put myself out there last year,” Hernaiz said. “I’m more of a reserved guy. But it was fun getting to know new people. There’s really good guys in this clubhouse.”

Over that time, Hernaiz has quickly developed strong relationships with many of the young players he may soon be joining in the Majors such as Zack Gelof, Lawrence Butler and Tyler Soderstrom.

“It’s exciting,” Hernaiz said. “The last core was [Matt Chapman], [Matt] Olson and those guys. I feel like we have another young core coming up with guys like Gelof, [Butler] and [Soderstrom]. It’s definitely exciting. But at the same time, it’s just potential. Now, it’s time to go prove it.”