Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Wilkel Hernandez to miss 2021 season with elbow injury

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Tigers prospect Wilkel Hernandez will be sidelined for the 2021 season.

The right-handed pitcher underwent Tommy John surgery in late October, the Tigers confirmed to the Free Press on Wednesday. If his rehabilitation goes as planned, the 21-year-old is expected return to in-game action in 2022.

Hernandez pitched in the team’s instructional league this fall in Lakeland, Florida, as a member of the 49-man roster. But once ligament damage was discovered in his elbow, he was shut down.

The typical recovery time for Tommy John surgery is 14 to 16 months.

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Hernandez, from La Carlota, Venezuela, was traded from the Los Angeles Angels to the Tigers with outfielder Troy Montgomery in December 2017 in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler, who retired at the end of the 2019 season. At the time, Hernandez was the Angels’ No. 24 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. (Montgomery was ranked as the No. 20 prospect.)

“The pitcher is very young,” Avila said after the 2017 trade. “So, there’s still upside there. He throws in the mid-90s. He’s topped out at 96. The younger the guys are the farther away they are. But you like the upside. He’s definitely a prospect, a legit prospect.”

During instructional league, Hernandez’s fastball clocked 94-97 mph. He had two strikeouts in an Oct. 14 game with the Toronto Blue Jays. In an Oct. 17 intrasquad game, he issued a leadoff walk to Riley Greene, but battled back to retire Kingston Liniak, Bryant Packard and Andre Lipcius in order.

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After getting traded to the Tigers, Hernandez pitched for Short-Season A Connecticut and Single-A West Michigan as a 19-year-old in 2018. In the Midwest League that season, he registered a 4.71 ERA, 34 strikeouts and 16 walks.

Hernandez stayed in Single-A for 2019, posting an improved 3.73 ERA, 1.214 WHIP, 90 strikeouts and 26 walks in 101⅓ innings across 21 starts. He did not pitch in 2020 because the minors were canceled.

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In his four-year minor-league career, Hernandez has a 3.63 ERA, 1.219 WHIP, 193 strikeouts and 74 walks across 208⅓ innings.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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