Hernandez, top, and Oliveros, bottom (S. Sanchez)
InsideThePark.com sat down with the San Antonio Missions' Venezuelan connection, RHP Felix Hernandez and C Luis Oliveros, to find out about Baseball America's top pitching prospect and the man crouched behind the plate making the calls for his pitches. Oliveros graciously translated between English and Spanish for this interview.
InsideThePark.com: How have you reacted to moving up to Double-A?
Felix Hernandez: I'm continuing to work and pitch hard. I don’t see much difference from Double-A than before. Before, I could throw a curveball down or high and away and they’d swing at it. Now, in my first start at Double-A, I throw the curveball and they don’t swing; they take it for a ball so now I know that I need to throw it for a strike.
ITP.com: What can you tell us about what you went through as a prospect in Venezuela?
FH: I played last year in Venezuela and just learned the game. There’s a lot of big league guys that play in Venezuela and that’s how I learn about baseball and how to pitch.
ITP.com: How old were you when you knew you wanted to play baseball?
ITP.com: Who were some of the baseballers you looked up to growing up?
FH: Freddy Garcia.
ITP.com: What were some of the things (Freddy Garcia) taught you at Spring Training?
FH: We had a good relationship. He’s a good friend. We didn’t talk too much about pitching and things like that. We had a good time and went out. We didn’t talk about pitching because since this was my first and second years of throwing, Freddy didn’t want to tell me something that would put a lot on my mind. He wanted me to continue pitching (the way I pitched).
ITP.com: What were your initial thoughts when you heard of Freddy getting traded?
Luis Oliveros: We didn’t want Freddy to go. He was the only guy from Venezuela in (Seattle), but that’s baseball. We had a really good time with him and it’s a lot of help for young guys to talk to the major league guys. It helps to see guys from your country. You think a lot about playing with him. We have to continue to play. One day we could play for this team and another day we play for another, we just have to keep playing.
ITP.com: Is it a driving factor for both of you to be the next Venezuelan players in Seattle?
LO: Before, we had a couple of guys from Venezuela. But now, we’re the young guys from Venezuela and that’s why we’re here working hard and trying to make the big leagues.
ITP.com: What it like to be a young prospect growing up in America?
FH: You know, there are a lot of guys from Venezuela playing. Our guys play hard and if we play hard and see these guys up top, we know that if we do the same, we can be there, too.
LO: We know we have to work hard. If you are bad at something, you work at it and get better and play like you can play.
ITP.com: What would be the most important thing you can teach Felix from a catcher’s prospective?
LO: I think the most important thing is to pitch aggressively. He’s got that. That’s very important for new guys to learn. (Felix) can pitch; he can pitch here and in the big leagues and it’s because he’s not afraid to be on the mound. He thinks about where to throw the pitch. He’s a smart kid. He’s young, but he thinks like an old man who’s played in Double-A for years.
ITP.com: What’s the next big thing you’d like to work on?
LO: He’s too young. He wants to throw a slider.
FH: I want to throw a slider, but I’m too young to throw it. That’s what I have in my mind for the next level is to throw a slider.
LO: That’s good for him. Right now, he throws a change, a curve, a fastball and a sinker and everybody knows he throws hard so if he throws a slider, that’s good for him.
ITP.com: Being an 18-year-old prospect, what do you think of the comparisons to pitching greats like Doc Gooden and Fernando Valenzuela?
FH: I feel good about that. I think about it like I can be there soon. I think about a lot of guys that pitch in the big leagues and think ‘I can do that,' so that’s why I continue working hard; so that I can be like those guys someday.
InsideThePark.com would like to thank Felix and Luis for sitting down to explore the minds of two up-and-comers in the Seattle organization. We’d also like to thank Luis for sitting down and serving as the go-between for Felix and our San Antonio reporter. Have any questions about the boys in black and gold, feel free to e-mail Joe Ruiz at firstname.lastname@example.org.