Recalled by the Phillies on Tuesday, infielder Cesar Hernandez hopes that he has displayed enough improvement at a new position to stick around in the big leagues for the foreseeable future.
The switch-hitting Hernandez opened the 2014 season with the Phillies, but was demoted to Double-A Reading in April tasked with developing his defensive repertoire. The Phillies wanted the slick-fielding second baseman to add third base to his skill set.
After an extensive amount of work, Hernandez seems ready to handle the entire infield.
At the hot corner, the 23-year-old no longer looks new to the position. Hernandez worked extensively to become well-rounded and has been able to show how far he has come.
Whether it’s coming in hard on a dribbler to gun down a runner, going quickly to his left with a stab-and-spin effort to notch an out or making the routine plays expected of a capable fielder, Hernandez looks ready for the challenge of being a utility man at the big league level.
“So, you think it’s pretty good now? Well, it’s gotten a lot better. It takes a lot of early work,” Reading manager Dusty Wathan stated, responding to an assertion that Hernandez plays like an experienced individual at third. “He’s worked every single day we’re home and he’s done 20, 30, 40 minutes a day. It’s just repetition, repetition, getting used to it, getting it in the game.”
Hernandez has increased his comfort level on the left side of the infield, mixing in time at shortstop as well, a position he hadn’t played regularly since he was a teenager in the Venezuela Summer League. He feels the steady exposure and game action has been the key.
“Now, I feel comfortable, but when I started at third base that was a little difficult, because you need to learn so much,” Hernandez said over the weekend. “It’s better now that I have a little experience playing third, because I play there every day.”
The transition from second to shortstop came easier for Hernandez because of the proximity and the distance from home plate, but third base is closer to the batter, set ups are much different and adapting took more time.
“It’s not the same thing. It’s difficult. But I’m working every day to learn to read the ball,” Hernandez said.
Through 26 games with the Reading Fightins, Hernandez was among the Eastern League leaders in batting average with a .340 mark. His offensive skills were never in question, though. The Phillies were adamant that time in the minors for the switch-hitter was for defensive work.
“My offense is good. I just try to hit and see the ball and swing. That’s it. I just keep doing that and they know I can hit,” Hernandez stated.
The Phillies minor league coaches and coordinators made sure to present Hernandez with every possible scenario at the new position, in order to help him progress and to have the most ideal basis to judge the strides he was taking. They would change his position from third to shortstop mid-game. They taught him the concept of baiting a batter into bunting. All the nuances of the position were presented and the 5-foot-10 166-pounder responded nicely.
Hernandez, who was demoted from Triple-A to Double-A last year after being honored as an All-Star with Lehigh Valley, in order to learn the outfield, was not disappointed when he was sent down this year. In fact, the youngster appreciated the organization’s desire to have him become more versatile. He sees a brighter future because of it.
“I feel good because I’ll have more opportunity to come back to the bigs leagues because I’ll play third and short and second.”
Reading utility man Carlos Alonso, a 25-year-old University of Delaware product who has played all over the diamond since he began his pro career in 2010, was able to provide Hernandez with some encouragement while the two were donning Fightins’ uniforms together this season.
“If I’ve told him anything it’s, ‘Just keep with it! Just get your reads in the games and either come in or set back on the ball.’ There’s definitely an adjustment to be made, especially going from second to third,” Alonso said.