On Day Two of the MLB Draft, I got the chance to have a conversation with Chris Hall. Hall is the head baseball coach for De La Salle Institute in Chicago. Royals second round pick, Ben Hernandez, went to De La Salle Institute and played for Hall.
It’s every head coach’s dream to have a player selected in the draft. I’ve had several former players get the opportunity and it is an awesome feeling to know that you helped a young man on a journey to reach one of his dreams. It was no different for Coach Hall who was elated that Hernandez was getting this chance. What made it even better for Hall was knowing how great of a kid Hernandez truly is. We discussed Hernandez’s attributes, abilities, and interests. We talked about baseball and what it’s like to have a player in your system for four years and having the chance to watch him grow and mature and finally get the opportunity to chase his dream. And we talked about life as baseball coaches.
First, let’s look at the scouting report that Hall gave me. Hernandez throws four pitches. His fastball has been up to 95 and has late life. Hall sees no reason why there isn’t more in the tank because Hernandez has such smooth arm action. He thinks that Hernandez has some projection left and might be throwing 99 in just a few years. After all, he is just 18-years-old. Hall says Hernandez has a really good cutter even though it was only developed over the winter indoors during pens. Hall said that Hernandez’s change up is pro-ready with late life. The pitch gets some of the best hitters out and was rated by multiple evaluators as one of the best in the 2020 high school class.
I asked about Hernandez’s curve and why evaluators are so bearish on the pitch. Hall said that Hernandez lost the feel for the pitch but that he had regained the feel for it going into the spring. The curve was significantly better but the team didn’t get to play a game and only got one intersquad in before everything was shut down. Because of that, scouts weren’t able to see the pitch in game action.
Hall praised Hernandez’s work ethic and called Hernandez a special kid. Hall said Hernandez eats and breathes baseball. Hernandez would carry a baseball around school feeling grips and loves the game of baseball like few kids do. Hall also talked about Hernandez’s intelligence within the game and pointed out the fact that he has gotten to the point where he can self-coach. Hernandez has learned his mechanics so well that he is able to easily tweak himself when he is offline or not consistent with his pitches. One of a coach’s goals is to get their players to the point where they can self-coach. Once a player has taken ownership in their own ability, you can basically just guide the player and enjoy the journey with the player. It’s truly a fulfilling thing for a coach to sit back and watch while being able to enjoy everything.
Hall reminisced about Hernandez’s growth from eighth grade through graduation. Hall remembers Hernandez came to almost every game his eighth grade season before he was actually able to be part of the high school team. Hall was a little worried about Hernandez’s transition to De La Salle because Hernandez had been home schooled. However, Hernandez already had developed a relationship with the older players and fit right in immediately.
Hall described Hernandez as a God-fearing kid and someone you would allow your daughter to date. That’s a big deal because as a coach with a daughter, I know everything about my players and every reason why I would NOT let her date any of them. I say that in gist, but you get the idea.
Hernandez is a caring kid. Hall told me a story of how Hernandez found out one of his teammates’ family was going through a tough time. Hernandez was afraid the family wasn’t going to be able to pay their team fee and that their son wasn’t going to be able to play. Behind the scenes, Hernandez went player to player and was able to find a way to raise enough money to pay for everything that was needed while keeping everything confidential. That is just the beginning of why you want to root for Hernandez to make it to the big leagues.
While doing some research on what type of player Hernandez is, I stumbled upon an article that talked about a tough health situation for the family. Hall and I discussed some of those struggles. Hernandez’s little brother, Chris, has Prader-Willi Syndrome. If you’re like me, you had to look that up. Prader-Willi Syndrome is an abnormality in the 15th chromosome resulting in reduced function of the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is key in many of the body’s functions including temperature regulation, hunger, regulating emotions, and the sleep cycle. Chris was sometimes able to attend games and spend some time in the De La Salle dugout before the disability ultimately left him unable to attend games and in need of special care. Because of that, Ben hasn’t been able to see his brother Chris very much recently.
Now add into the equation that Mr. Hernandez has severe asthma and has been limited in his ability to function in everyday life during the COVID-19 pandemic as well. Because of these health ailments, the Hernandez family is very close-knit. Hernandez’s family is very important to him and he wants to be able to help the family have financial freedom through these tough health issues as well as the future. Again, this speaks to the character of Ben and his selflessness in times of need.
Hall told me that he spent some time with Dayton Moore and JJ Picollo back in scout school. It would have been around 2005 and they were all together at the Braves camp in Orlando. Hall raved about both of their characters and couldn’t have been happier that Hernandez is getting the chance to play for them. As a coach, you want to know your players are taken care of when they go to the next level. I can assuredly say that Hall is confident that Hernandez is exactly where he is supposed to be.
I definitely appreciated the opportunity to talk with Hall and I hope we get a chance to match up on the field in the future. I wish him the best of luck within his program and congratulate him again on the opportunity to watch one of his players continue to play the game that we all love.