Lakeland, Fla., (Roy Fuoco | The Ledger) – Sammy Hernandez’s family moved from Puerto Rico to Lakeland when he was 14 for the chance at more opportunities.
He’s taking advantage.
The Lakeland senior catcher has signed with the University of Houston, is a potential draft pick in this summer’s MLB Amateur Draft and has been one of the top hitters in the county for the past three seasons. A natural catcher, he’s also an all-around player who can play anywhere on the field and matches his physical skills with a strong mental game.
Hernandez has been named The Ledger’s 2022 Baseball Player of the Year.
In addition to playing stellar defense behind the plate, Hernandez wrapped up his senior year by hitting .411 with 17 extra-base hits, including five home runs, 27 RBIs and 23 runs scored. It capped his first chapter in life in the United States that began four years ago.
“My family wanted to come over here for better opportunities in life and better schools,” he said. “It was a really tough adjustment. I didn’t know any English, but now I’m learning.”
Baseball helped tremendously, he said, with both learning the language and adjusting to his new life. It’s where he made friends.
Lakeland coach Lenny Brutcher could see Hernandez’s talent early and also saw immediately why Hernandez went on to become a top player.
“Just hard work and dedication,” he said. “Every single day, he is one of the hardest workers we’ve had. It was an everyday thing. He always tried to get better with everything he did.”
Hernandez’s first taste of varsity baseball came his sophomore year in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. He was batting .667 (18 for 27) in 10 games when the season was canceled. He then hit a solid .372 as a junior.
He has always been a great hitter, he’s always had power, but he’s gotten more powerful this yearLenny Brutcher, Lakeland Coach
“He has always been a great hitter, he’s always had power, but he’s gotten more powerful this year,” Brutcher said. “He’s got a very good eye for the strike zone, and he has adjusted to hitting breaking balls even better. That’s what makes him a better hitter than he was.”
Hernandez said he feels he’s improved a lot and has more confidence at the plate.
“I feel I was very good with two strikes,” he said.
His biggest improvement, he said, has been defensively. He didn’t become a catcher until he got into high school, but he quickly caught on and enjoyed it. This is a talented year for catching in the county, as Lakeland Christian’s Brody Donay and Winter Haven’s Mason Jantomasso are also on first team.
“I got a lot better catching,” he said. “Last season, I had a little trouble throwing people out at second base, but this season I’m really good at it.”
His versatility proved valuable when he dislocated his thumb in his glove hand late in the season. He sat out three games but returned and played left field.
Hernandez also has a high baseball IQ, so much so that Brutcher trusts him to call the pitches during the game, something that is very rare in high school.
Hernandez’s future is nothing like he could have known about when he was growing up in Puerto Rico. For now, he plans on playing college baseball at Houston, and before he came to the U.S., he didn’t even know college baseball was a possibility.
“I never knew about college baseball,” he said. “In Puerto Rico, I didn’t know anything about college.”
If he gets drafted, he’ll weigh his choices before deciding. He now has more opportunities than he could have imagined before coming here.