2020 has been a crazy year so far, with a lot of ups and downs. This year has been filled with a lot of death, unfamiliar situations, and adjusting. Many people are struggling around the world with their finances and their sanity. At the end of the day, athletes are just like us, they play sports to support and take care of their families. According to Portland Trailblazers guard C.J. McCollum, “A third of NBA players are living paycheck to paycheck.” The guy currently carrying your water heater might be a professional athlete, just trying to earn a little extra money for his or her family. I spoke to Houston Astros pitcher Nick Hernandez about taking side jobs during this COVID-19 pandemic, what he is working on with the season on hold, what he recommends for high school seniors to get attention from scouts and more.
With all this extra time what are you doing to develop your arsenal, lower-half, and balance?
“So I’m treating it as an off-season. The off-season isn’t really considered an ‘off-season.’ because we are trying to develop. I’m trying to incorporate about two high-intensity throwing days a week whether that’s bullpens or throwing live BP (Batting Practice) to other pro hitters in the Houston area.
I’m also working out with a couple of other pro guys. One is John King from the Texas Rangers who went to Clements High School, also Joey Pulido who is with the Blue jays. Those guys get after it in the weight room. They are freak athletes and it’s good to train with others that make you adapt and take it to another level. We are lifting heavy and are on a pretty organized throwing program.
We have our High days and low days. We are also doing conditioning several times a week and get some type of mobility in daily. Trying to hit a little bit of everything and taking care of the nutrition aspect as well.”
Talk about earning side money during this quarantine. As you guys are unsure if the Minor League will still pay you guys.
“A lot of people think that, if you’re a professional baseball player or professional athlete, you’re automatically super-rich, which a lot of guys are. It’s good if you got a signing bonus. But you know how money is, you have to save it. To save it, you have to bring in more money. It’s not a lot of guarantees in life but the one guarantee is bills. So you gotta pay the bills. So I’ve been just getting on side hustles. I mainly do it to keep myself busy and keep myself sane especially with all this downtime during the pandemic. It’s good to do new stuff because you never know what you will find out if you have a passion for something. I don’t know too much about plumbing, but my buddy hits me up every time he has a job — a water heater job — and I help him move those big water heaters. Sometimes I’ll have a lift that day and that’s a grind, lifting those water heaters into the attic and going off to pitch and lift. You gotta be careful and not push yourself too hard and get injured.
What else do you miss about baseball besides the competition aspect?
“I miss seeing my teammates every day and hanging out with them in the clubhouse. Being around a bunch of great guys every day.”
Do you think this long lapse without sports will make players play harder and take it less for granted?
“Yeah, I think people are really missing baseball and you know we aren’t getting any younger. Guys are going to be taking more responsibility for their careers and producing more results because they have to. Time is ticking guys have to put up numbers with the limited time they get. But I think guys are going to play way harder than usual because some guys do take it for granted.”
How does this virus affect the minor leagues and your opportunity to move up? Talk about the minors potentially going to stop paying?
“I don’t know if we are going to play this season, the MLB is the priority for sure which it should be and it could make it in my favor or it could work against me. We will see what happens. They are probably going to expand rosters due to pitchers being on limited innings and pitch counts. Because guys have to build up. They aren’t going to push the higher valued arms if they haven’t been able to stay in shape during the quarantine. So they are going to carry a lot of pitchers, but if they do plan to have a minor league season it will probably be limited to double-A and triple-A. It’s an interesting scenario. They will keep guys prepared most likely behind big leaguers.
“It’s the way it is, that’s why I’ve been doing all these side hustles to keep money coming in because you never know. People are losing their jobs all over the country so you gotta take responsibility for your life and do what you can to take care of business. We don’t know what’s going to happen. They are unsure if they will keep paying us. But I get it, it’s the minor leagues were not bringing in a ton of revenue in the minors.
How does the virus affect baseball recruiting and future potential draftees?
“There are a lot of factors in this. I think the draft will be a lot shorter, maybe only five rounds. Leaving a lot of people undrafted. Let’s say you’re a junior in college and you are trying to get drafted this year and you’re looking to get a decent signing bonus to hold you off in the minors and pro ball. Those guys don’t have leverage anymore if they’re left un-drafted and become seniors.
What do you mean by leverage?
“So when you’re a junior and get drafted, you have more leverage to get more money because you can either take the money and become a professional or go back to school. So when you’re a senior you have no choice. You have to take it or not ever enter the draft again. If you get drafted as a senior, you don’t have the leverage. You don’t have many options. You take it or you don’t and go work in the real world. That’s why they call it a Senior Sign. Seniors usually get around $1,000 for a bonus which is crazy because you can’t really live off of that unless you have some financial help from someone else. It’s a tough situation and those seniors that lost their year, it’s tough. Especially in high school, it’s your senior year and all those events going on and they are looking to have a big season and it gets cut off. It also affects college because those guys looking to come back and get their scholarship, there are a lot of scholarship cuts because you have the high school guys coming in the next year and the incoming freshmen have to get their scholarship they were promised. So a lot of guys get their scholarship cut so they have to enter the portal and transfer somewhere else and find somewhere to play.
I think the best thing to do if you’re a college guy getting drafted or entered the transfer portal or a high school guy trying to get looks. Post videos of yourself, of your tools, and showcase what you got online. Using tools like Rapsodo If you’re a pitcher. For example, posting videos online to certain accounts that will help you get looks. Show your velocity throwing, all your analytics of all your pitches. Hitters posting highlight videos of yourself hitting home runs and showcasing your tools. They have a good system going on I know a lot of guys who use the flatground app on Twitter with PitchingNinja. I’ve heard that’s gotten really popular and I’ve seen it, it’s very interesting I have a lot of buddies that have been signed off of that. SO that’s one way you can help yourself out in this situation.”
Who are the best three players you have pitched against in your career?
” Matt Clarke is a former big leaguer and is a veteran hitter who has taken me deep in a live bp. Myles Straw is a pretty tough out. That guy is very good at hitting for average. Also, Michael Brantley in rookie ball for Tri-City he was rehabbing for the Cleveland Indians, and the bases were loaded, 3-2 count and I threw him a slider and he hit a missile straight to the third-basemen with two outs and I got out of it.”
What is your best or go-to pitch?
“I think my best pitch right now is my cutter. But I think my change-up has the most potential and my fastball is always developing a lot lately. But I’m always trying to work on my weaknesses and it slowly gets better. I’m not the kind of guy that limits himself to two or three pitches. I’m more of a 4 or 5 pitch mix.”
Talk about your confidence as a pitcher?
“One of the really good things I learned at a very young age was to never feel sorry for yourself on the mound. When I was 10 years old, I gave up a few hits and started feeling sorry for myself on the mound and start giving up more hits, and then you’re just hoping the coach comes and pulls you. That stuff plays a big role in life, just competing when adversity comes because it’s going to come 100 percent. It just depends on how you handle and react to it. So whenever I give up a home run, I allow myself to get mad. But it’s a good angry. It’s a good mad, which helps me compete harder. You still have to stay within yourself and not muscle-up. I try to embrace adversity because I’ve always loved the no outs, bases loaded scenario, and just challenging myself to get out of that. Because if you can get out of that with no runs that’s impressive. You get that last out and you’re like “let’s go.” Those are the situations you play for. Feeling sorry for yourself on the mound, you can’t do that. That just can’t happen. You gotta compete no matter what happens. You gotta compete until you’re out of the game.”
Talk about your dad’s influence on your game?
“My dad would never push me to work but he would always give me the resources or whatever I needed to get better. He always provided me with all the information, but he never asked me if I wanted to hit or pitch. I always had to go to him if I wanted to go to the cages as a kid. But I definitely wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for him. He bought a house and we built a batting cage in the backyard and a bullpen and that’s where I’ve been training (most) of my life.”