Phillies 2017 Season Preview: Second Baseman Cesar Hernandez

Sep 17, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez (16) slides safely into home during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 17, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez (16) slides safely into home during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

Cesar Hernandez took steps forward the second half of 2016. If he continues to grow in 2017, he is an intriguing piece moving forward for the Phillies.

When 2016’s first pitch was delivered, the Philadelphia Phillies had someone not named Chase Utley lacing up the cleats to be the new second baseman. Cesar Hernandez, a homegrown Venezuelan product, was going to be Freddy Galvis’s new double play partner.

Hernandez was really given the reigns over the course of the 2015 season as Utley was injured and later traded. The project was not seen as something the Phils would explore long-term. However, over the course of the last two seasons, Hernandez has given the Phils brass even just the smallest second thought. The switch-hitter was able to avoid arbitration with the Phillies, agreeing to a $2.55 million contract.

If you asked ten of the most diehard Phillies fans you know what their opinions of Hernandez are coming into 2017, their answers would vary greatly. Some believe in his ability to get on base, hit, and hope his baserunning improves. Others are excited by the prospect of his work this offseason. Still, there are many who do not believe in his future with the team, citing the prospects of Scott Kingery coming soon. There may even be people who list him as one of the names that could possibly be moved to another team before the season ends.

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As of now, all that can be agreed on is the fact that, without any unforeseen circumstances, Hernandez is the Phillies Opening Day second baseman. After last season, he has earned that much coming into camp. Offensively, Hernandez improved over the course of 2016 and he will look to build on that success.

The first half of last season, Hernandez hit .291/.329/.377 and only walked 17 times, scoring 28 runs.

It seemed like he spent the All-Star Break having a revelation about his approach. He was a much different offensive mind as he posted a .298/.413/.411 line, as well as bolstering his walk total by adding 49 free passes and 39 runs. Hernandez turned himself into the ideal leadoff hitter in last year’s second half. His eleven triples lead the National League, and his total .294/.371/.393 line is enough to give fans a glimmer of hope for the leadoff spot this season.

The question is whether or not he is able to build on the breakout 2016 campaign. It was reported by Jim Salisbury that Hernandez showed up with a different look and goal-oriented mindset this spring. He stole 17 bases last season, while being thrown out 13 times. Obviously, his baserunning has been his Achilles heel since being promoted. Fans witnessed him making poor choices on the base paths on multiple occasions last season. If he is checked in mentally and properly prepared, the speed to steal 30 bases is there. His ability to get on base and steal bases could be torturous for opposing teams.

A look at his stats do show that he improved immensely with his base stealing in the second half. The improvement was there in both numbers (11 compared to six post All-Star break) and preparation. According to Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the other piece to this puzzle heading into 2017 is the continued work he is putting in with coaches, Mickey Morandini and Juan Samuel. Breen writes that both coaches believe in his ability, and working with the caliber baserunner of Samuel was can only benefit a player with the speed tool that Hernandez possesses.

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Projections for Hernandez are, as they do in the cases of most players, showing decline. The best projection that can be found is a Fangraphs projection putting him at 702 plate appearances. The projections have him dipping to .283/.358/.380, but improving to 22 stolen bases and a 3.8 WAR. The Phillies would certainly take those numbers from their leadoff hitter.

This season is an important season for the 26 year old (27 in May). With the Phils in the midst of the rebuild, second base is a position of decent depth throughout the system. Jesmuel Valentin is right behind him at Lehigh Valley, but does not pose much of a threat.

However, only a level behind Valentin is Kingery. Phillies fans are keeping a close eye on the Arizona grad as the season begins. He will be at Double-A to start the season, but with any success, he could find his way to Triple-A before season’s end.

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This season, Hernandez needs to prove to the organization that he is either going to be a second baseman they can move forward with or one that they may want to move on from. If he delivers on his own goals, the organization may be faced with a tricky decision moving forward in their rebuild.