Venezuelan born infielder Cesar Hernandez was signed as an amateur free agent by the Phillies at the age of 16. Since then, the slick defender that primarily plays second base, has displayed solid progress and improvements in many areas of his game.
Hernandez, a switch-hitter, made his professional debut with the Venezuelan Summer League in 2007 at the age of 17. In two seasons there, he tallied a .296 batting average with three home runs and 45 RBI in 114 games. He followed that effort with a campaign in which he batted .267 with five doubles and a triple in 41 games for the Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2009.
The following year, as a member of the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters, Hernandez was voted as the Most Valuable Player of the club by his teammates and was an All-Star. He proved clutch with the ‘Cutters, posting a .400 average (16-for-40) with runners in scoring position and two outs. Overall that season, Hernandez sported an impressive .325/.390/.392 line with 13 doubles and two triples in 65 games and placed second in the New York-Penn League in stolen bases, with 32.
His remarkable season in Williamsport led to a complete skip of full season Class A Lakewood. Hernandez played the entire 2011 season with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, where his offensive production took a dip (.268/.303./.333). With just 15 extra-base hits and 98 singles that year, a power boost was something that the Phils’ brass and coaches were looking for when they assigned Hernandez a strengthening program for the following off-season.
In 2012, the 5-foot-10-inch 175-pounder was named as an All-Star in the Double-A Eastern League, as he sported a .304 average with 26 doubles, a league leading 11 triples and two homers with 51 RBI as well as 16 steals in 104 games with the Reading Phillies. After July, Hernandez was promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he batted .248 with four doubles, a triple, six RBI and five steals in 30 games.
The 22-year-old played in the Venezuelan Winter League this off-season, manning mostly second base but playing some shortstop as well. As a member of the Margarita Bravos for the third straight year, Hernandez posted a .266/.345/.357 line in 44 games.
While his stolen base totals have steadily looked nice, a drop in success rate from 84% in 2010 to 70% in 2011 then to 58% in 2012 shows a need for Hernandez and/or his coaches to be more selective with his steal attempts. Regardless of the dip in this area, speed is still an asset for Hernandez.
Defensively, Hernandez’s range is very good and while his throwing release is quick, his arm is best suited for second base as opposed to shortstop, where he initially played upon breaking into the minors.
As he has ascended in the pro ranks, Hernandez has developed a better ability to make contact and has a greater trust in his hands at the plate. And while he will never be a big home run guy, doubles and triples will surely be areas that Hernandez can do some damage in. Additionally, he needs to become more selective and draw a larger number of walks to become a better rounded offensive threat.
Phillies developmental coaches and organizational instructors praise his many talents and are confident that Hernandez has what it will take to compete at the highest levels of professional baseball while potentially becoming a successor to Chase Utley at second for the big league club.
Maturing and learning outside of the game has helped the outgoing Hernandez when it comes to baseball as well. A focus on improving his English and fully adapting to the cultural changes that come with playing in the United States, has increased the 22-year-old’s confidence and his ability to pick up more about the game from his coaches and peers.
A member of the Phils’ 40-man roster, Hernandez is likely to begin the 2013 season back with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, where he should produce on a more consistent basis than he did upon his initial trial there last season. Hernandez could be a reliable back up to the big league team in case of injuries or could be seen as a call up in September this year, if his production follows the same progress he’s shown after previous promotions.