With all the attention to the upcoming MLB draft this week, let's not forget that the July 2nd 2013-2014 international signing period is rapidly approaching as well. Scouts are busy scouring Latin America for prospects, particularly the talent hotbeds of the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
The Philadelphia Phillies are usually not among the high-bidders on the international market, preferring to spread their bonuses out and look for bargains. They've generally done a solid job of this, and one of their finds recently reached the majors: infielder Cesar Hernandez. He hasn't received a lot of attention outside of Phillies circles, but he's got a future in the Show and is today's topic for Prospect of the Day.
Hernandez was signed by the Phillies out of Venezuela in 2006. It took him two years to get out of the Venezuelan Summer League, not reaching North America until 2009, where he hit .267/.351/.313 in the Gulf Coast League, showing a distinct lack of power, but also showing a knack for controlling the zone. He took a large step forward in 2010 with a .325/.390/.392 season for Williamsport in the New York-Penn League, swiping 32 bases in 38 attempts and emerging as one of the more interesting players in the Phillies farm system.
Moved up to High-A Clearwater for 2011, he took a half-step back against tougher competition with a .268/.306/.333 line in 119 games. However, he rebounded in Double-A in 2012, hitting .304/.345/.436 in 103 games, showing more power. A late promotion to Triple-A resulted in a lackluster .248/.270/.298 mark in 30 games, but his season was considered successful overall.
2013 has certainly been that way: .305/.384/.428 with 24 walks and 33 strikeouts in 187 at-bats for Lehigh Valley, also stealing 15 bases in 19 attempts. And now he's in the majors, promoted after Michael Young went on the bereavement list. Young is back now but Hernandez has done enough to stick around in the majors for the time being. He is out of options as The Good Phight points out, so it makes sense to evaluate him as a possible long-term answer at second base with Chase Utley injured.
Hernandez is a 5-10, 175 pound switch-hitter, born May 23, 1990. He's been in the farm system for almost seven years but is still just barely 23 years old. Eric Longenhagen at Crashburn Alley offers a detailed scouting report,noting Hernandez small-but-well-built body and his impressive ability to handle fastballs. Breaking stuff can give him trouble and his plate discipline is erratic: sometimes it is good, sometimes it isn't, although it was looking quite solid in Triple-A before his promotion. He's not going to be a power hitter, but he can sting the ball enough to stay in the lineup.
Lacking the range and arm strength to be a regular shortstop, Hernandez has settled in as an above-average second baseman. He runs decently and has shown considerable improvement with his basestealing technique this spring.
Overall, Hernandez isn't going to be a star, but he's made a lot of progress over the last two years. With his combination of defensive ability, switch-hitting contact approach, and ability to swipe a base, he should be around awhile.