Brian Hernandez is 27 and hasn’t played above the Double-A level.
His natural position is first base but more often plays across the diamond at third. Despite being a corner infielder, Hernandez isn’t much of a home run hitter.
Add it up and those kind of the odds usually work against a player making it to the major leagues. But that’s not the complete picture when it comes to the infielder for the Arkansas Travelers.
Named after former major league catcher Brian Downing, Hernandez embodies a lot of what made Downing so beloved by Los Angeles Angels fans: grit, determination and intensity that pushes him to outwork others.
That’s precisely why Hernandez, who like Downing grew up in the Los Angeles area, believes he’ll eventually beat the odds and don a major league uniform someday.
“I remember being a kid and going to Anaheim with my dad and talking about Brian,” Hernandez said. “My father (Ramon Hernandez) loved him and was always pointing out things about him that made him special. I’ve also seen footage of him playing and I think we share a lot of then same characteristics.”
Last year, Hernandez started the season at the Advanced Class-A level. He not only finished the year as a Double-A Texas League All-Star, but also just missed claiming the league batting crown by finishing with a .308 average. But that’s also not the only mark that sets Hernandez — a 27th-round selection out of UC Irvine in 2011 — apart from others.
“What really sets Brian apart is everything he does to prepare for the game,” Arkansas manager Bill Richardson said. “It shows in everything he does. The extra ground-ball work, the film study, the extra cage work. As a Double-A manager, it’s not often you have a guy who is a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. It’s invaluable to a guy in my seat.”
The role that the 6-1, 195-pound Hernandez plays for the Travelers goes beyond the field.
“When we get a new player, we set them up (with a place to stay) for three days,” Richardson said. “After those three days, it’s up to the player to find their own spot. Brian will make sure he’s got a spot. And this isn’t just for his buddy. He looks out for every teammate.”
Despite his accomplishments last year, Hernandez opened the 2015 season in Arkansas, repeating a level he’d already played so well at — again.
It’s the kind of disappointment that could crush a player. But it only motivates Hernandez, adding fuel to his belief that one day he will make his way to the big leagues.
“My dream isn’t to merely reach (the majors), but to get there and then stay for awhile,” said Hernandez, who will make his second consecutive Texas League All-Star Game with a .249 batting average that includes 12 doubles, three home runs, 25 runs scored and 49 RBI — tied for the league lead — through 69 games.
Now in his fifth minor league season, it’s hard to tell if Hernandez’s playing future will remain with the team in his families’ backyard. Yet, as Richardson points out, that’s not really the point.
“Someone will recognize his talent and give him the opportunity at the next level,” Richardson said. “And I feel that when that chance comes, he won’t disappoint.”
Just like Downing, who joined the Angels in 1978 with little expectations but went on to make a big impression for 13 seasons.