EVERETT — The bonus money is nice.
So is the recognition as the No. 6 prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization.
But there is one thing Everett AquaSox center fielder Brayan Hernandez holds above all else: family.
“Mucho,” he says emphatically, while fellow Venezuela native and AquaSox manager Jose Moreno translates the rest. “Family is first anywhere (I) go.”
At 19, Hernandez is at the age when many people would be entering their sophomore year of college. Yet 2017 will mark his third season in professional baseball after the Mariners signed him as an international free agent in 2014 for a bonus of $1.85 million. Hernandez was the third-ranked international prospect that year by Baseball America and considered the top prospect from Venezuela.
Hernandez is the oldest of Ivan and Raquel Gragirena’s three boys, a brood that also includes 11-year-old Aiverson and five-year-old Henderson.
“Right now, especially in this moment, it’s pretty tough to stay away from family,” he said through Moreno. “The situation that we have right now in our country in Venezuela is difficult. Being away from them (is difficult), but it is a sacrifice I need to make to try to get better and move up the ladder and ultimately try to get to the big leagues and help them.”
Hernandez spent a season and a half with Seattle’s team in the Dominican Summer League and was DSL all-star last season before he was promoted to the Peoria Mariners in Arizona. Now he figures to patrol center field in Everett this summer despite being several years younger than most other players, who usually come from the college ranks.
“I think you have to be mentally strong,” Moreno said. “You have to compete with 21-, 22-year-olds. It’s a game of adjustments and you have to make adjustments. It’s a big jump for Latin Americans to come over here and compete with college players. That’s something he will have to learn. Every day will be a learning process and I hope he has a real good season.”
Hernandez is now hitting exclusively from the right side after experimenting as a switch-hitter early on in his career. At 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, he’s a long, lean, athletic defensive player who figures to play center field all the way through the Mariners system.
He’s already had a taste of pro baseball’s penultimate level. A dearth of outfielders in Class AAA Tacoma meant Hernandez recently joined the Rainiers for three games. He finished 2-for-5 at the plate with a stolen base in what likely won’t be his final appearance at Cheney Stadium.
“The culture, the core values of the organization — it’s an organization that likes to work hard every day on and off the field,” Hernandez said. “(The Mariners) try to help (me) be a better citizen no matter what, then a citizen and a baseball player. I’m trying to learn every little thing, little details about the philosophy and try to become a better player.”
Moreno, who is back managing for the first time in four years, worked extensively with Hernandez the past two seasons as Seattle’s Latin American field coordinator.
“(He has) good speed, good range,” Moreno said. “Right now he’s working and trying to get a little bit stronger and trying to gain a few pounds. Right now he’s more mature about controlling the zone. That’s going to help him to get better at-bats so that’s where we’re focusing right now.”
Moreno said power could come as Hernandez consistently puts together good at-bats and continues to learn the strike zone. That’s been the focus so far rather than trying to drive the ball.
If he does develop power he would greater resemble the player after which he models his game, in former American League MVP Josh Hamilton. Hernandez admires Hamilton for what he conquered off the field as much as what he did on it.
“What happened in his life, he struggled a little bit in his life and after that he was stronger,” Hernandez said, noting Hamilton’s addiction battles that temporarily derailed his baseball career. “He had to battle through and become a real good baseball players. That’s something that helps (me) have the motivation no matter what you can do if something happens in your life you have to keep pushing.”
Perhaps no philosophy is more appropriate for a precocious prospect so far from home.
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