Who’s on second? Life for the Phillies beyond Hernandez looks bare
As the Phillies start Spring Training this month, they’ll be moving forward with Cesar Hernandez manning second base. Having just avoided arbitration and the swirling rumors of being traded, Hernandez will be returning for his fifth season as a Phillie.
An unlikely success story in the making, Hernandez has been able to increase his production year after year in the majors steadily. Everything culminated with a fantastic 2016 campaign where he slashed an impressive .294/.371/.393 and accumulated a 4.4 fWAR, good for ninth best in the majors at the position.
He is one of the few Phillie players who seems to understand the meaning of a “professional at-bat,” where he’s able to stay disciplined and stick with not only pitches in the zone but pitches in the zone he can handle. His 24.3 “outside the zone swing percentage” was not only the best on the Phillies (by a wide margin) but it was good for 15th best among all National League players.
His incredible contact skills are represented by his 8.0 swinging strike percentage which puts him at 26th best in the NL, in between offensive superstars Paul Goldschmidt (7.9%) and Anthony Rizzo (8.1%). Of course, he lacks the power of those guys, but that’s not Cesar’s game.
Defensively Hernandez isn’t a liability, but he’s not entirely Chase Utley either. His 12 errors last season were tied for third most among second basemen.
The advanced metrics, however, were a bit better, with Hernandez sporting the highest UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) for a second baseman in baseball at +13.5 and the highest Def, a single measure of overall defensive value, at 15.6.
If you watched a lot of Phillies games last year you’d have seen that many of Cesar’s errors were on routine plays and that he was consistently able to make the harder plays, hence the low marks in traditional fielding stats and the better grades in the advanced metrics.
Behind Hernandez on the depth chart are two utility players: Andres Blanco and Howie Kendrick.
Both should provide more than adequate replacement play should Hernandez need a day off or get injured, although Kendrick enters the season as the starting left fielder.
Hernandez’ future with the club remains uncertain. Rumors swirled that the Phillies dangled Hernandez in trade talks this offseason although seemingly they didn’t receive an offer good enough for them to pull the trigger.
The club’s intentions with Hernandez seem ambiguous. They offer him up for trade but don’t have an exact replacement available.
In regards to prospects at second, the Phillies don’t have much in the pipeline. The top second base prospect in the organizational comes in the form of Scott Kingery, a 22-year-old in AA who hit an unimpressive .271 last year and reached base at a dismal .273 clip. Think Freddy Galvis without the ability to hit 20 home runs or Gold Glove caliber defense.
Kingery does play with a lot of heart, though, and he possesses a very high baseball IQ which are qualities reminiscent of the Phillies last superstar second basemen.
The Phillies do have a much younger second base prospect though who appears to be very promising: Daniel Brito. At age 18, Brito seems to be very similar by all accounts to what Hernandez is now at 26 only with years of development ahead.
Brito could develop some of the power that keeps Hernandez being more of a complete player but is years away from even being considered a major league prospect. Brito could develop some of the power that makes Hernandez a complete player.