I first met Cesar Hernandez in the summer of 2012. At the time, Hernandez was just named an Eastern League All-Star and was competing in the EL All-Star Game in front of his home fans in Reading. His line jumped off the page at me: .304 with a .345 OBP with 16 or so steals at just 22 years old. Why wasn’t anyone talking about this guy?
He was shy and I tried to speak broken Spanish with him as I had been advised by Leandro Castro that Cesar preferred not to do English interviews with strangers, at that time. My efforts did not work so I went and hung with Nebraskan slugger Darin Ruf who had not yet gotten on his historic Reading hot streak. But as I watched Hernandez take groundballs, I continued to be impressed. I hadn’t heard much about Hernandez but I wanted to learn more.
Fast forward to 2015. After two Major League cameos in 2013 and 2014, and a brief change of position, Hernandez came into camp just 24 as a player that might be able to hit .300 with a shoddy on-base percentage with no clear position even on a bad team. And his early play didn’t help his cause, either: through April 30, Hernandez hit just .233/.314/.267 with just one extra-base hit. May was an improvement but wasn’t too kind to Hernandez, either, where he hit just .241/.359/.370 in mostly a pinch-hitting role.
But then something strange happened. Chase Utley, in the midst of his worst season as a pro, went down with an injury following the June 22 contest. Hernandez, who had been improving with more regular playing time, suddenly was thrust into the starting second baseman role. He would not relinquish it, even going so far as to earn a vote of confidence from then-GM Ruben Amaro Jr. From June 23 on, for the first time in his Major League career as a starter, Hernandez hit .289/.343/.361 with 16 steals with FanGraphs giving him a net-positive in defensive runs saved.
What is tough to judge about Hernandez’s season, however, is whether or not he is a long-term solution at second for the Phillies. At worst, he has moved the needle from “definitely not” to “definitely maybe”. Among MLB second baseman with 450 PA or more, Hernandez ranked 13th out of 26 in batting average, 9th in OBP, 23rd in SLG, and fifth in steals leaving some room to argue that Hernandez was among the top 50% of MLB based on numbers that included his pretty bad first two months as a part-time player.
Hernandez, listed at 5’10”, 165 lbs, doesn’t seem to have a frame that will sufficiently support a great deal of additional muscle, but he may be able to turn a few singles into doubles and has enough legs to turn no-doubt doubles into triples. With nobody breathing down Hernandez’s neck for the spot at second base, he should be the Phillies’ Opening Day and primary second baseman in 2016.
Grade: B. If Hernandez develops a better batting eye and improves his OBP, he could easily put himself into the top 10 Major League second baseman. Unfortunately, that has never been a huge part of Hernandez’s MO. Hernandez was certainly above average once he became the starting second baseman and did enough to make his entire season a success despite a slow start as a part-time player.