Cesar Hernandez has been by far the brightest spot for the Phillies so far this season. With the team sitting at 4-8 after their first 12 games, there are tons of negatives to point at that we could get into. For now, though, we are going to take a look at a player who might force the hands of this front office in one way or another sooner than later.
Hernandez is hitting at a .346 clip with a team leading 3 home runs, including two lead-off home runs, and one 2-R HR in the 8th inning of Saturday’s game which led the Phils to victory. He’s got 8 RBI, 1 behind Maikel Franco for the team lead. He’s been playing a stellar second base, and he’s coming off of a 3-hit game on Sunday against the Nats in which the Phillies ended up losing, but none of that was his fault. Hernandez has been the spark plug for this team dating back to the later part of last year. He took over as the main lead off man towards the end of July, and since then he has shown why he belongs in that spot.
Cesar came into this season in the middle of a very quiet controversy, which would be, “What happens when JP Crawford is ready for the big leagues?” We all know that Crawford’s arrival is inevitable, but no one is really talking about the effect that it will have on the Phillies middle infield. I touched on how Freddy Galvis would be effected by a possible Crawford promotion back in January. As for Cesar, there were many people during the offseason that wouldn’t have minded him being traded to make room for Crawford, therefore moving Galvis to second base. Now? Many people won’t want to see him go.
So, what happens next? Hernandez has shown that he is capable of being a very good second baseman in this league. In a season so far that has been so negative for this club, Cesar in that lead off spot and at that second base position has really calmed people down when they start to panic. On the other side of things, Freddy Galvis has been pretty bad at the plate following his best offensive season of his career. There’s no denying, though, that Galvis is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. It also appears that the Phillies have no plans of moving Crawford away from shortstop. This is going to create an eventual logjam once JP gets his bat going and proves that the hype isn’t for not. What happens with Hernandez? Does he hold his spot at second base while Crawford becomes his new double play partner? Does this lead Galvis out the door? Or, do the Phillies think that Cesar can pull them in some good players at other positions, therefore moving Galvis over to second base?
In my personal opinion, I think they should hold on to Cesar and give Crawford the chance to overtake Galvis at shortstop.
Hernandez has proven that he could be a part of this team’s future. He’s only 26 years old, which on this team makes him a grizzled veteran, but he’s got a whole lot more left in the tank. He’s just getting ready to break out. His strengths coming into this year were his hitting for average, his speed and his defense. So far this year, though, he’s added two things, which are power and coming up big in the clutch. After just 6 home runs in 155 games last year, Cesar put on 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, which some got on him for, thinking that it would lessen his speed. He made it clear, though, that he wouldn’t lose that aspect of his game after putting on the weight. So far this season, he has shown that the extra work has paid off. Not only has he hit home runs at a higher rate, but they all have been in big spots. 2 of his 3 home runs have been leading off the game on the road. The first came on Opening Day in Cincinnati, and the other came in yesterday’s eventual loss to the Nats. His 3rd home run, as I mentioned before, ended up being the game winner in the Phils 4-2 win over the Nats on Saturday. He also had a walk-off hit on April 9th, in which he blooped a single into left field to give the Phils a home winner that day against the Nationals. Not only has he been stuffing the stat sheet, but he’s been doing it at key times of the game.
In the field, Hernandez maintained a .981 fielding percentage with just 12 errors as the Phillies second baseman last year during his first full year of being the team’s full time starter there. So far this year, he also currently holds a .981 fielding percentage, with just 1 error on 52 chances through the first 12 games of the season. He and Freddy Galvis have become one of the best middle infield tandems in the game, and as elite as Freddy is on the left side of the infield, Cesar is pretty darn good on the right side as well.
The argument could be here that Galvis can translate his stellar defense on the left side over to the right side of the second base bag, therefore making Hernandez expendable. It all comes down to whether the Phillies would rather have the combination of Hernandez’s solid bat with really good defense compared to Galvis’s subpar bat with elite defense.
I feel like they could possibly end up with both. Why not? Once Crawford comes aboard, make Freddy a super utility infielder. He could spell both middle infielders, as well as Maikel Franco at 3rd, anytime he’s needed. Sometimes for a younger player it’s the more at-bats the better, but at this point the 27-year-old Galvis is one of the longest tenured Phillies on the roster. Maybe using him in spurts will help him at the plate. Of course, this would all be depending on whether or not Freddy is willing to step down to more of a reserve role. He could easily catch on with another team who could use his elite defense at shortstop. Personally, I think he would be the perfect 9-hitter on an AL team. He can use his glove to stay in the lineup while not being depended on to hit balls out of the ballpark or maintain a high average. I’m sure there would be a pretty big handful of teams across baseball that would take Freddy as their shortstop in the short term, as well as the long term. I just personally feel like Hernandez is destined to ultimately be the better player and a key part of the Phillies rebuilding process.
This is something that will be interesting to monitor as this season moves on. Can Cesar maintain his hot bat? Can Galvis turn himself around at the plate? Will JP Crawford tear it up in Triple A, forcing the Phillies hands earlier than expected? Klentak, Mackanin and company will have some tough decisions to make by the end of this season. For now, though, let’s enjoy one of the lone bright spots on this ball club in Cesar Hernandez while this team looks for more ways to win ball games.
Photo: Thomas Kirk (lefty516) (Via: Flickr)
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