When it comes to the Phillies’ second base situation this year, a lot more eyes will be on Scott Kingery than they have been in the past, as the farm system’s top position player continues to get closer than ever to the majors. Though he’s certainly earned this level of recognition, it’s not enough to completely forget about the team’s current second baseman, Cesar Hernandez.
Even after missing six weeks in the summer with an oblique injury, Hernandez still managed to have a career year in 2017. He put up personal bests in home runs (9), runs (85), doubles (26), OBP (.373) and slugging (.421) while also tying his career high in average with .294. While he could stand to have more power, something that he’s specifically hoping to add to his game after bulking up in the offseason, he has still managed to establish himself as a consistent presence at the top of the lineup during his five years with the Phillies.
Hernandez has managed to stand out during a lackluster time for the Phillies, and his contributions to the team shouldn’t be undersold. That being said, it still seems inevitable that, barring any unforeseen circumstances, Kingery will ultimately eclipse him for the second base job. With this in mind, 2018 can thus be seen as a make-or-break year for Hernandez, not in the sense of whether or not he’ll continue to have a shot in the majors, but rather what his fate will prove to be with the Phils.
Ideally the team will likely want to trade Hernandez by the time Kingery is ready to take over, in the hopes of getting a good return to go along with a new second baseman. Thus, the Phils would want Hernandez to have high value.
In order to improve his game in 2018 and thus increase his value in a potential trade, the main thing Hernandez is going to need to work on is his extra-base power. Last year was a career high in slugging percentage for him (.421), but he has still consistently been under the league average in both slugging and total bases over the course of his career.
Hernandez doesn’t need to completely reinvent himself into some sort of 40-50 home run player this season (assuming that would even be possible), but he will need to at least need to become a little more of a power threat. Right now, opposing teams’ main concern when it comes to Hernandez is his ability as a catalyst to get on base and come around to score, but rarely do pitchers have to worry about giving up extra bases on one swing when he’s up to bat.
Another aspect of Hernandez’s game that will need to be on display this season is his position flexibility. Last year, he played a total of four innings at a position other than second base, but it’s worth remembering that he has had experience playing shortstop, third base and the outfield while with the Phillies. He has become more and more ingrained at second as his career has gone on, but hopefully Gabe Kapler’s willingness to experiment will mean that he’ll see some legitimate playing time at those other positions. If other teams can see that he’s versatile, it’ll make him more appealing in a potential trade.
I’ve definitely enjoyed seeing Hernandez grow as a player and improve his game during his time with the Phillies, so it seems almost unfair to talk about him here as simply another piece to be dealt and a stepping stone for Kingery. Considering, however, that the alternative to Hernandez being traded is most likely him being stuck on the bench behind Kingery, this option then seems like the best one for both parties. He may not be part of the Phillies’ future, but he can still offer a lot to a team, and I’m sure there are plenty of organizations looking for a solid second baseman like him.
It’s especially great to see that, despite all sort of talk like this about how long he has left in Philly, Hernandez is still committed to improving himself. He’s recognizing that, no matter what happens, he needs to improve his power, and that’s the mark of a player who’s not letting outside discussions get to him. Though 2018 may end up marking the end of the longest tenured Phillie’s time with the team, I’m still very much looking forward to seeing what Hernandez can do this season.