PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Is it a blessing or a curse?

David Hernandez, a modest pitching prospect by any objective standard, finds himself overshadowed by some well-regarded arms in Baltimore's organization. And as he gets closer and closer to the Majors, Hernandez is afforded some room to grow without the added pressure of excessive expectations weighing him down.

For now, Hernandez is content to stay in the shadows, quietly improving just by trying to staying abreast of his more celebrated rotation mates. It's a competitive thing, he says, and one he wouldn't trade for the world. And one day, if everything shakes out right, Hernandez could join his peers in a homegrown rotation.

"I wouldn't say it's a rivalry," Hernandez said Sunday. "We're all pulling for each other. It would be awesome to see us all there at the same time. Sure, in the back of my mind, I'd probably love to be the first one. But I'm sure [Brad] Bergesen wants to be the first one. It's not like everyone's thinking, 'Man, I hope he does bad.'"

And if they were hoping that, it hasn't worked out yet. Bergesen won the organization's Minor League Player of the Year Award last year while pitching for Double-A Bowie, and he was teamed with some impressive company. Hernandez, for instance, went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA and led the Eastern League in strikeouts (166).

Still, despite that performance, Hernandez was overshadowed by Bergesen and phenom Chris Tillman, who ranks as one of Baltimore's very best prospects. The Orioles also have 2008 first-round draftee Brian Matusz and hard-charging right-hander Jake Arrieta closing the gap, meaning that Hernandez has to do a lot to impress.

"I'd say it helps you. It motivates you to get better, to go out there and compete," Hernandez said of his high-profile peers. "I'm sure you always want to make a good impression, but I've been doing this for a while."


"He's very quiet and he's kinda to himself, but when he pitches, he draws a lot of attention to himself because of the kind of arm he has."
-- O's manager
Dave Trembley,
on David Hernandez

Hernandez, a former 16th-round draftee, has already defied the odds to progress this far. He overcame a wild year at Class A Frederick in 2007 to thrive at Bowie, holding opponents to a .217 batting average. And he's impressed in his first trip to big league Spring Training, serving notice that he might not be all that far away.

"He's just like all the other ones," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley of Hernandez and his peers. "The goal was to acclimate them and make them feel comfortable. I think that's been accomplished here. He'll be better knowing what the competition is all about and [having] the exposure that he's had.

"I think the most important thing is that all these guys -- him included -- will know they're not that far away. Sometimes they think the gap is so far spread out, and these guys don't think it's attainable."

Hernandez said that hitters were more unpredictable and free-swinging in Class A, and he said he managed the talent jump to Double-A without many of the normal complications that confront pitching prospects. Now he's hoping to jump to the next level and position himself as one of the team's top contingency plans.

"I'm sure I could be. Anything's possible," Hernandez said. "You never know, and only time will tell, I guess. Each year, I've moved up a level, so it's been that much more exciting getting a little closer."

Trembley recently raved about Hernandez, saying that the right-hander has accepted the challenge presented to him in big league Spring Training. And he said the youngster appears to be fairly projectable.

"He looks like he's a guy who's capable of sustaining his velocity," Trembley said. "He's a horse. I don't think he's been swept under the carpet, so to speak. We're very much aware of what he is. He's very quiet and he's kinda to himself, but when he pitches, he draws a lot of attention to himself because of the kind of arm that he has."