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Sarasota Success Story: Maikol Hernandez

Maikol Hernandez
Maikol Hernandez (photo: Eric Garfield)
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There’s a disco song by Shalamar called The Second Time Around. They sing about being able to recognize improvement, and finding independence through perseverance. Other lyrics acknowledge mistakes made but the theme is clear: one opportunity might not always be enough or fitting for every situation.

In this case, an Oriole fan posed a question on Twitter & I realized that the mistake-maker was me. They asked who on the FCL roster was ready for the next level. Though I observe the minors closely, it’s still difficult to project that type of thing so I try not to. But after some thought, the one who may just be an A level player breaking through in Rookie ball in front of my eyes is the one who last year had Bird fans doubting.

The second time around in camps & the Complex League have shown that SS prospect Maikol Hernandez is not only an excellent player but a long-term grinder, a quality that can only help as he climbs the ladder. It’s hard to say exactly went into the equation as far as 2022 to 2023 improvement, but to put it mildly the change has been night and day. Solid day-to-day and not often displaying star qualities, Hernandez was a contributor to be sure but grounders were booted, At-bats were wasted & players passed him. The body language seemed off for a high-dollar signing who appeared to be a nice person. Summarizing his game: it appeared that there was no urgency.

In some ways it’s my role to be the eyes down here, so I recognize nobody sees this except for me and the dedicated supporters who watch it on my social media. It was very tough to put these factors together and have high confidence. That’s looking like a whiff. I look forward to being proven wrong by players like him. To a large degree it’s the most enjoyable aspect of watching this way.

This year it’s not about skill or talent. From day 1, or really before during off-season camps, he’s smiling even through mistakes and he is a team leader. Batting leadoff in many lineups, he’s unquestionably improved his metrics by large amounts. It’s audible. The numbers have been there and physically he’s broader in the shoulders. The comps of him from those mid-teen years where scouts saw him as an A-Rod or Correa are starting to make more sense by the day.

Talking to evaluators who saw him back then, they had little doubt he’d catch up to this level after year 1. There was one who said Maikol was so levelheaded and focused as a 15-year-old that he knew the minor league transition would be as smooth as a routine grounder.

Early on it wasn’t, but the O’s player development staff has worked their magic and he’s the most trusted part of the lineup here in Sarasota. Like Gunnar Henderson and Samuel Basallo before him, Hernandez is the pacesetter for the young roster which in this case is over 90% Latin.

Listed at 6-2 but probably an inch taller, he’s probably pushing 200 lbs so that level, shoulder-heavy cut is sending line drives pull side with regularity. Seems like at least one every game falls in. He also makes throws with the now patented low-gear, high-velocity style that gets outs from the hole and coming in. He’s started to steal bases, and probably needs some refinement on the jumps, but can certainly move.

In a game against Pittsburgh a hitter tried to extend a double into three. Positioned near 2nd base to take the relay from the track in short CF, he pivoted (all arm+core) and threw a bullet 6 inches above 3rd base that nailed the greedy runner.

A beautiful baseball play, he didn’t even celebrate or really acknowledge it. He casually let loose a perfect throw in a difficult and unique situation. That’s progress.

A conversation with someone close to the team a couple of games ago is the reason why I’m writing this. We were reviewing the roster and when we got to Maikol, my perspective was how improved he is. Hers was much different; she thought he was more humble and quiet than anything else. And the examples she used to make her point really made me stop and wonder if what I saw as maybe missed potential was just him being low energy as far as reactions.

There are a lot of people who have seen Maikol Hernandez play for a guy who nobody’s seen play. To go from a question mark to a team’s best performer (at SS) at his young age and in such a short window changes his profile faster than the Shalamar song takes to play.

The part about him belonging in affiliated ball is a separate subject but can no longer be considered wishful thinking. The Orioles are very good at that part. He can play at Delmarva, make some plays, boot some balls, win some games all while continuing to grow and improve. Sometimes in bursts or occasionally over extended periods the athlete in him will show who’s in there.

His early development stateside has been a great lesson of what’s different about the Orioles. Being a leader, even an unassuming one has started to provide a glimpse of what he can be. They’ve made a role for him, helped him focus on it and Hernandez has thrived. He signs autographs, he cheers some, he relaxes in the dugout with his feet up when he’s not playing and the dude carries the cooler to the bus after the game.

The size of his signing bonus will always influence how he’s viewed. Handling that is easier for some than others. Fans should watch what he does on the field, and should be prepared for some big moments & some understated celebrations from a very good player worthy of their trust and optimism.

Don’t know if any O’s execs read this but regarding his joining the Shorebirds: perhaps a different Shalamar song applies. Maybe Make That Move is more fitting?

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