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Orioles prospect season in review: Darell Hernaiz

In the O’s infielder-rich system, Hernaiz has flown somewhat under the radar. But after a breakout 2022, the 21-year-old figures to get more notice next season.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays
Darell Hernaiz getting his swings in during a March 2020 spring training game.
Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles began the 2022 season with the No. 1 farm system in baseball, and they’ve stayed there, even as Adley Rutschman graduated from prospect status and established himself as a full-fledged big leaguer. For the rest of the month on Camden Chat, we’ll be reviewing each top prospect’s 2022 season.

When you have the No. 1-ranked farm system in baseball, by definition your team’s supply of prospect talent runs deep, and one area of particular depth for the Orioles is the infield. Twelve of the Orioles top 30 prospects are infielders. This means that for those not named Henderson, Westburg, or Mayo, it can get a little crowded in the spotlight.

Case in point: shortstop Darell Hernaiz, the O’s No. 24 prospect (tied) (and No. 16 on MLB’s Orioles Top 30 list), whom some close watchers believe is flying a little too under the radar:

One of several Orioles infielders who (again according to The Verge) falls into the happy category of “shortstops who mash,” the 21-year-old Hernaiz’s work with the bat in 2022 helped him to hop up two MiLB levels.

Hernaiz joined the organization in 2019, a fifth-round selection out of Americas High School in El Paso, Texas, who forwent a scholarship to Texas Tech to sign with Baltimore. He debuted with the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League affiliate that July, batting .263 in 29 games. In 2021, he had a nice but not earth-shattering season with the Delmarva Shorebirds, appearing in 94 games and batting .277 with 12 doubles, six home runs and 52 RBI.

Known as more of a speedster than a power guy, the right-handed Hernaiz stole 22 bases in 2021, but in 2022 his power started to show up, too. On May 22, Hernaiz earned a well-deserved call-up to High-A Aberdeen after just 32 games with Delmarva, where he put up a .284 average, a .512 slugging percentage, and also equaled his professional career high in home runs from 2021 (six, but in 62 fewer games).

Hernaiz’s season was only just taking off. Hernaiz managed to essentially replicate his offensive stats from Delmarva while at Aberdeen (a .852 OPS at the lower level versus a .832 OPS with High-A). Over 60 games as the IronBirds’ leadoff hitter, the shortstop slashed .305/.377/.456 while hitting 13 doubles and five home runs. He also stole more bags (22), racking up 32 on the season across three levels, second in the organization only to Aberdeen speedster Luis Valdez. All of this earned him a second call-up, this time to Double-A Bowie, on August 29. On September 4, he hit his first Bowie home run. Take a look at that uppercut!

Hernaiz would end 2022 on the slow side, hitting just .113 in 13 games for the Baysox before missing the end of the season with a stint on the 7-day IL. Still, at 21 he’s about 3.5 years young for the level, and his season numbers at the plate were worth paying attention to: a .273/.341/.438 line in 105 games with 12 home runs, 62 RBIs and 32 stolen bases across three levels.

Another area of Hernaiz’s game that seems to have witnessed improvement in 2022 was his defense. According to his MLB Pipeline report, which I’d guess was written in the winter of 2021-22, Hernaiz has good athleticism and “an above average internal clock,” but his actions are “somewhat raw” and his arm “just average.” Scouts felt that Hernaiz could end up at second or third base if he continued to fill out physically and his defense didn’t improve (he committed a somewhat concerning 16 errors in 61 games at Delmarva in 2021).

While we still can’t say for certain where on the infield he will end up, based on his 2022 usage we can say that the Orioles seem to be paying a vote of confidence in Hernaiz’s abilities as a shortstop. Between Delmarva, Aberdeen and Bowie, Hernaiz made 58 starts at shortstop versus 24 at second base. And while his range factor grades out slightly better at second base, as a shortstop he cut his errors in half from 2021, with just seven over 58 games across the three levels.

With Hernaiz, there’s plenty more to be determined, especially given the stiff competition among Orioles infield prospects and him at least two years from cracking the majors (MLB Pipeline gives him an estimated arrival date of 2025). The biggest question for him entering next season is whether he can sustain his offensive production against Double-A pitching, followed by where on the diamond he’s best suited at higher levels.

But enough gazing into the crystal ball for now. As 2022 wraps up, it’s worth appreciating how many questions the 21-year-old Hernaiz did answer (in the affirmative) about his future in the organization, especially when it came to his defense and his power. This sleeper put the Orioles organization on notice in 2022, and now he finds himself firmly in the thick of infielder competition.

Previously: Fallen prospect roundup, Jean Pinto

Tomorrow: Drew Rom