July 25, 2003
The Florida Marlins have been in the news quite a bit lately. Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera have arrived in Miami with great fanfare, with Willis' performance being one of the reasons the Marlins can still consider themselves in the playoff hunt. More recently, Florida parted with three prospects, including former number one overall pick Adrian Gonzalez, to acquire Ugueth Urbina. The Marlins were willing to part with Gonzalez because of the presence of Jason Stokes, also a first baseman whom the Marlins view in a more positive light. However, one name who has been kept out of the spotlight is Jeremy Hermida, who just may be the Marlins best hitting prospect, and one of the more unheralded young players in the game.
Hermida put himself on the map in the spring of 2002 with a tremendous performance during his senior year of high school. He emerged from an interesting follow for area scouts into a must-see for cross-checkers before finally settling in as the premier high school bat in the country. His stock got high enough before the draft to have him in the mix for the number two pick, but he was eventually selected 11th overall by the Marlins. He signed for just over $2 million and made his professional debut in the rookie level Gulf Coast League. Despite hitting just .224/.316/.321 in 134 at-bats there, he received a promotion to short-season Jamestown to end the year, and his bat caught fire. His final 47 at-bats showed the swing that got him drafted, as he hit .319/.407/.404 against college-level pitching at just 18 years of age.
Having turned 19 in January, the Marlins assigned Hermida to their new low-A South Atlantic League affiliate in Greensboro. While the parks in the Sally League, and even his home field in North Carolina, aren't historically havens for pitchers, strange weather patterns have contributed to a down offensive year. The Bats (the nocturnal beast, not the well-rounded pieces of ash) are one of six Sally teams hitting below .240, and the club's .232 team average ranks 14th in the 16-team league. Through it all, however, Hermida has overcome a slow start to enjoy a solid professional debut.
You may not be overwhelmed by Hermida's .282/.382/.385 line, but it's the components of those stats that should be evaluated. In 351 at-bats, Hermida has managed 24 extra-base hits, or just over 25% of his total hits. While that number is a little lower than what is usually accepted, teenagers in full-season ball often post lower totals and develop power as they grow. More impressively, however, has been Hermida's willingness to work counts in his favor and be selective at the plate. He's drawn 57 walks against just 70 strikeouts, a rare accomplishment for a 19-year-old. Hermida has also maximized his average speed, stealing 20 bases in 22 chances and hitting into just three double plays. It's that kind of effort and instincts that often leads to quicker development.
Physically, Hermida is an imposing figure at the plate. Standing 6'4" from the left side, he's grown past his listed weight of 200 pounds. He looks the part of an athlete, with a strong upper body and a lean frame. He shows off an above-average arm in right field and runs well for his size, though he will slow down as he grows into his body. Generally, his non-hitting tools are considered average by major league standards, and it's his bat that draws attention and will determine his value.
His swing is tremendous, needing few adjustments, if any. He has the classic left-handed line-drive swing with a slight uppercut and can drive the ball to either field. His bat speed is just average at this point, but the mechanics are there for him to have one of the quickest swings in the game. He covers the plate well, and is more adept at taking the outside pitch into the alley than he is at driving the inside fastball. Opposite-field power is hard to teach, while many players can develop pull-power. The fact that Hermida can already make solid contact the other way is a good sign for the future. His approach at the plate is remarkable for a teenager, and he's shown pitch recognition beyond his years. While walk rates in the lower minor leagues can be deceptive, there's no questioning that Hermida has a terrific eye. He isn't quite Casey Kotchman, but he is a very patient hitter who understands that aggressiveness at the plate is different than swinging at the first straight pitch you see.
The comparisons for Hermida have ranged from Paul O'Neill to Andy Van Slyke. However, the one that strikes me every time I watch him play is Shawn Green. They have very similar builds, swings, and minor league performances. Both were mid-first round picks pushed by potential rather than performance. A side-by-side look at their age 19 seasons casts more light on Hermida's power potential.
Name Age Level AB BA/OBP/SLG XBH/H BB/K Hermida 19 Low-A 351 .282/.382/.385 24/99 50/77 Green 19 High-A 417 .273/.319/.345 25/114 28/66 Green 20 Double-A 360 .283/.339/.367 20/102 26/72 Green 21 Triple-A 433 .344/.401/.510 43/149 40/54
It should be noted that Green made his professional debut in the pitcher's haven that is the Florida State League, and he was pushed quickly by the Blue Jays. However, the jumps Green made the next two seasons illustrate why the Jays were so high on him. He made the adjustments necessary to maximize the power in his swing and became a major league All-Star at age 26.
While the improvement Green made is not the standard development pattern, neither is Hermida's approach at the plate. He has fewer improvements to make than Green did at the same age, yet possesses a similar physical upside. I'm convinced that Hermida has that level of potential, and I would not be surprised if we were discussing his breakout performance as one of the best prospects in the game in 2005.