Signed by the Phillies as an amateur free agent at the age of 16 in 2006, Cesar Hernandez swiftly proved himself as a capable prospect that had quite a future in baseball. Last year, the young Venezuelan was honored as a Triple-A All-Star and made his big league debut. This year, he’ll be doing everything in his power to earn another chance to compete at the top level of the sport.
Hernandez, a switch-hitter, made his professional debut with the Phillies’ Venezuelan Summer League team in 2007. 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 rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2009.
The following season, with the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters, Hernandez was voted as the Most Valuable Player of the club by his teammates and was a New York-Penn League All-Star. 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 outstanding season with Williamsport led to Hernandez complete skipping full season Class A Lakewood. He 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, increased power was something that the Phils’ brass and coaches were looking for when they assigned Hernandez a strengthening program during 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, two homers and 51 RBI along with 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.
Last year, Hernandez began the season back at Triple-A where he tallied a .309 average along with 12 doubles, nine triples, two home runs and 34 RBI in 104 contests. After earning a cup of coffee with the big league Phils, Hernandez batted .289 with five doubles and 10 RBI in 34 games.
Improvement with being patient at the plate was evidenced last year by Hernandez lifting his walk rate to 9.3% in the minors, up from 5.4% in 2012. His strike out rate saw a boost as well though, coming in at a 18.1%, which was a 4.5% jump from the previous season.
The 23-year-old plays in the Venezuelan Winter League during the off-season. As a member of the Margarita Bravos for the fourth straight year, Hernandez posted a .254/.318/.347 line in 31 games this winter.
On the bases, Hernandez is a true speedster. He was successful in 32 of 40 chances (80% success rate) in the minors last season. His stolen base totals have steadily looked nice during his pro career, though he failed to steal safely in three opportunities in the big leagues last year.
Defensively, Hernandez’s range as an infielder is very good. Converted to an outfielder last year at the All-Star break, when he skipped representing the IronPigs in the annual exhibition in order to have a few extra days to work on his defensive transition with the Phillies’ Double-A team, Hernandez still appears to be learning the new position and developing his reaction to batted balls. He committed four errors in 25 games as a minor league outfielder last season. The switch to the outfield will require some more work, but with the added versatility, his value is enhanced. Hernandez’s arm is solid and capable of keeping aggressive runners from taking extra bags on balls in play.
Phillies developmental coaches like Hernandez’s adaptability and feel his strength is hitting the ball to all fields. 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 his confidence and his ability to pick up more about the game from his coaches and peers.
With a competent bat, quick feet and some defensive depth Cesar Hernandez is the guy on this list that’s closest to helping the big league team. It’s likely he’ll begin the 2014 season with Lehigh Valley but he’ll possibly be the among the first position players that get the call when a roster spot with the Phillies opens up.