Yes He Can: Why Cesar Should Stick at Second Base


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Back before most fans were watching him yet, I was seeing Cesar Hernandez play in Allentown. I’m not all that shocked to see him succeeding in the Major Leagues right now, or that he appears ready to take Chase Utley’s job. The passage of time clearly was in his favor, and he’s an improved player from when I first saw him, back in 2011 at Spring Training. This still shouldn’t be shocking you. He can slap singles and hit .280 for the Phillies for the next couple of years, and provide some small level of improvement.

Cesar Hernandez is limited, I should mention that. He really is best if only used defensively at second base, where he can be an adequate player. He won’t ever hit for power either. Sure, he’s not Ben Revere, he’ll hit a couple of homers, but not many. Can he play second base though? Yeah, he can. Can he hit for a decent average? Yeah, he can. Can he steal bases? Yeah, he can. That’s what he can do, and that’s what you should expect. Cesar’s had some luck this year, as is evidenced by the .360 BABIP that his detractors repeatedly cite. Some of that is actual luck, some of that is his ability to bunt and use his speed to steal a few hits. That will regress, and he will therefore not continue to hit .400 as he has since Chase Utley went on the DL. I’m not calling him Joe Morgan or Ryne Sandberg here, but if you’re looking for an adequate to slightly above adequate second baseman, he can almost certainly do that.

You see, there is good reason to believe Cesar Hernandez can hack it. He has hit at just about every level. As a 23 year old starter in Lehigh Valley, he hit .309, posting a .375/.402/.776 slash line along the way. In 2012 he hit a combined .291 in Reading and Lehigh Valley, including a .304 in Reading, with a .329/.404/.733 slash line there. He was just 22 at the time, and was below the average age at both AA and AAA in those years. It didn’t start there though. A 17 year-old Cesar Hernandez posted a .276/.328/.436/.765 in the Venezuelan Summer League, and followed that up at age 18 with a .315/.412/.426/.838 line at the same level. As a 20 year old, he posted a .325/.390/.392/.782 for Williamsport, which got him bumped up two levels as a 21 year old to Clearwater where he hit .268/.306/.333/.639 after the big promotion, despite hitting under .100 for much of the first six weeks. His career minor league On-Base Percentage was .352, his batting average .294, and his OPS was .740. His AA and AAA numbers were the most impressive of the bunch too. He stole over 20 bases four times, 30 bases twice, and had 19 another season.

None of this means he’ll continue at his torrid pace. He’ll never be what Chase Utley was. He’ll probably never be close. Saying he can be a .280 hitter that steals 30 bases and reasonably represents the ballclub at second base isn’t a stretch though. His numbers back it up. On the low end, one may say he’ll hit .260 and steal 20 bases, while being slightly below average at second base in the field. Okay, fine. How is that a downgrade. While he won’t be what Chase Utley was, Chase Utley is a 36 year old man with chronically bad leg injuries. What are the odds he hits .260 moving forward? Since June of last year, he’s sub-.240. This year he’s sub-.200. He hasn’t hit for much power in a few years now, and his defense is below average today. Cesar Hernandez can beat that level of production, and be an average, traditional offensive second baseman.

I’m not saying Hernandez is the long-term, championship level answer. I’m saying he’s good enough for now, and for the short-term future. Let’s try it out and figure out the rest later.

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