Failed Prospect: Chad Hermansen
Chad Hermansen was drafted in the first round by the Pirates in 1995, 10th overall, out of high school in Henderson, Nevada. Scouts loved his athleticism and power potential, though it was expected that he would eventually have to move off shortstop, his high school position. His pro debut was strong: .304/.363/.533 in 24 games of rookie ball, then .273/.354/.467 in 44 games in the New York-Penn League, against older competition. I didn't give grades to new draftees back then, but a guy with a similar profile nowadays would get a Grade B or maybe even a B+ from me, given that he did well against older players after signing.
Hermansen began 1996 at Class A Augusta, hitting .252/.377/.513 in 62 games. Promoted to Class A Lynchburg at midseason, he hit .275/.352/.462 in 66 games. Scouts reported that he killed fastballs, but problems against curves and sliders kept his strikeout rate rather high, though it didn't hurt his overall production much. Given that he was just 18 for most of the year and finished in the Carolina League, it looked like the sky was the limit for him. I gave him a B+ in the 1997 book.
The Pirates moved Hermansen up to Double-A in 1997, very impressive for a 19 year old. He hit .275/.373/.478 with 20 homers, 69 walks, and 136 strikeouts in 487 at-bats, and also stole 18 bases. At this point the main worry was his glove: he started the year at shortstop, moved to the outfield, then to second base. I wrote that they should just stick him in the outfield and let his bat develop. I moved his grade up to A-, confident that given his age/competition factor, that he would do very well in the long run. The strikeouts didn't worry me much since he also drew walks and was so young.
Hermansen moved up to Triple-A in 1998, hitting .258/.334/.520 with 28 homers, 50 walks, 152 strikeouts and 21 steals in 458 at-bats. He moved to the outfield and looks reasonably comfortable out there. Although he maintained his power production, the decline in his walk rate and increase in strikeouts wasn't a good sign. Still, he was just 21, and given a normal age/development curve, the future still looked bright. Grade B+.
Returned to Nashville for 1999, Hermansen hit .270/.321/.530 with 32 homers and 19 steals. His plate discipline slipped: he dropped to just 35 walks. He also cut the strikeouts back to 119 in 496 at-bats, but his overall production didn't change much. He got into 19 games with the Pirates and hit .233/.324/.333. By this time I was starting to worry about him. He hadn't made much progress against breaking balls, and while he still saw enough fastballs to hit homers in Triple-A, I was increasingly concerned that he would have plate discipline problems in the Show. Still, I gave him the benefit of the doubt one more year, with a B+ rating.
2000 was split between Nashville and Pittsburgh. He hit just .185/.226/.296 in 33 games for the Pirates, with a 6/37 BB/K in 108 at-bats. Even his Triple-A numbers slipped: .224/.304/.384 in 78 games. He spent most of 2001 back in Nashville, hitting .246/.315/.436 with 16 homers and 154 strikeouts in 123 games. He got into 65 games for the Pirates in 2002, hitting .206/.272/.381. He got traded to the Cubs, then ended up in the Dodgers system in '03 and the Blue Jays in 2004, waylaid by a torn labrum. He was out of baseball in 2005, then played for independent Sioux Falls in 2006. He was back in Triple-A last year, hitting .283/.353/.447 for Albuquerque in the Marlins system.
Hermansen is still just 30 years old, but with a career major league record of .195/.255/.329 in 492 at-bats, it seems unlikely that he'll ever get another shot except in an emergency.
So, what happened here?
I have seen a lot of Hermansen over the years, and his problem is easy enough to diagnose. He can't hit breaking balls. It was his weakness back in 2000 and it is his weakness now. He still has bat speed and power, but he's very pitchable and hasn't been able to get past a swing-from-the-heels approach for any length of time.
When he was young, the theory was that given his age that he would be able to resolve this problem eventually, but it never quite happened, granted his major league playing time was erratic and spread out, and the injuries did not help. But even if someone had given him 500 more at-bats to adjust to the majors, I doubt he would have been able to keep his batting average any higher than .240 at best, with a mediocre OBP and very high strikeout rate.
Age-relative-to-league is important but not an absolute thing.
Some guys peak early and don't develop their skills even if they are young for their leagues early in their career.