Dodgers acquire hard-throwing RHP Ariel Hernandez, sign Cuban LHP Darien Nunez

The Dodgers made a couple of moves on Tuesday that made the game thread, but we didn’t do a deeper dive on both of them. This is that dive.

First up is the more interesting of the two moves. The Dodgers traded 2018 non-roster invitee Zach Neal and 23-year-old first base prospect Ibandel Isabel to the Reds for hard-throwing right-hander Ariel Hernandez.

Hernandez, 26, was designated for assignment on Friday. It was a bit surprising because he still has two minor-league options, but the Reds, obviously, needed a 40-man roster spot, and Hernandez was the lowest man on the totem pole.

What makes Hernandez awfully intriguing — especially to a team like the Dodgers — is his elite-level fastball. He routinely touches triple digits and sits in the high-90s. In his MLB debut last season, he averaged 98 MPH on his fastball in 24 1/3 innings pitched. He also has a high-80s curveball that acts like a slider. Here’s what Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs wrote about him back in January:

“Hernandez wields elite raw stuff but has no idea where it’s going, and his low arm slot undercuts his effectiveness against left-handed hitters. He sits 96-99 with the fastball and hurls in a power, mid-80s curveball with a spin rate up near 3000 rpm. Intersections of such velocity and spin are almost unheard of, and Hernandez made several big-league hitters look foolish with his breaking ball in his 24 major-league innings. It’s a plus-plus offering, as is his heater. Hernandez’s command, however, is what kept him in A-ball until he was 25. Despite his stuff’s quality, Hernandez has little margin for error against left-handed hitters, who see the ball well out of his hand. Lefties posted a .404 OBP against him in 2017. Barring a sudden dramatic improvement in Hernandez’s ability to locate, he’ll likely be relegated to low-leverage innings.”

And therein lies the problem: Hernandez has legitimate 30-grade command/control. He walked 20.4 percent of the batters he faced in the majors, and he has a career 16.7 percent walk rate in 258 minor-league innings. Bill Simas is going to have quite the task ahead of him in Oklahoma City. But if he and the Dodgers can somehow get him to be at least a 40/45-command pitcher, you’re looking at an incredibly valuable reliever.

Some of that was on display early last season. The incomparable Jeff Sullivan was impressed with Hernandez and led him to see shades of Craig Kimbrel and Lance McCullers — based on the velocity, horizontal and vertical movement of his curveball. Obviously, the rest of his 2017 didn’t go as well as his first 11 innings, but his arm talent cannot be taught. What can (hopefully) be taught is to repeat the the delivery in hopes of developing better command/control.

Here’s some video from his MLB debut, which was also his best outing of 2017:

The Dodgers didn’t give up a whole lot to get Hernandez. Neal was a non-roster invitee and the first pitcher recalled this season and threw all of one inning. He was outrighted back to Oklahoma City and threw 9 2/3 innings. Isabel was my No. 49 prospect coming into the season. Here’s a part of what I wrote in my Top 100:

“His setup at the plate is … interesting. He’s leaning a bit toward the plate with a slightly open stance and his hands at chest-level. He wiggles the bat a bit toward the mound and it all comes together as one with a large leg kick, his body drifting back a bit to the third base dugout and a general uncorking of that massive power potential. The ball jumps off his bat when he makes contact, and the contact is always hard. The problem with all this is his inability to cover much of the strike zone and recognize pitches. That’s what led to a high strikeout rate. It’s fun to watch when he connects, but his approach and swing won’t work at the upper levels. It’ll need a complete overhaul if the Dodgers think he’s anything more than minor-league fodder.”

The fact the Dodgers sent him back to Rancho Cucamonga was writing on the wall. His power is almost unmatched in the system, but everything else about his game is lacking and will keep him from climbing the ladder while being successful.

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The Dodgers also reportedly signed Cuban left-handed pitcher Darien Nunez, according to a report from El Nuevo Herald, a daily Spanish language newspaper in Southeast Florida.

My favorite part of the article, courtesy of Google Translate:

“A left-handed pitcher with a straight smoke, Núñez reached a pact with the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the teams that showed more interest in him since he began his demonstrations in the Dominican Republic.”

Straight smoke.

The article goes onto say he operates with a fastball that touches 95 MPH (and sits in the 90-92 MPH range). He also has a curveball and changeup. He played in the Cuban National Series in from 2011 through 2015. Some of the notable players he faced in 2014-15 include Yordan Alvarez (old friend), Alfredo Despaigne, Yusniel Diaz (current friend), Jose Miguel Fernandez (old friend), Lourdes Gurriel and Yuli Gurriel (hiss).

Back in 2015, Ben Badler of Baseball America reported Nunez asked for his release from the league.

Yes, he led the league in strikeouts and walks in 2014-15. He struck out 108 hitters in 105 1/3 innings. He also walked 76 hitters. Hard-throwers who are wild seem to be the theme of this post.

Here are some videos of Nunez from his time in Cuba:

Since he’s 25 years old, his signing bonus won’t count against the Dodgers international signing pool. The Dodgers can still sign international amateur free agents through June 15. The next signing period begins on July 2.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.