Heriberto Hernandez is more than likely an unknown for most fantasy players. It makes sense, as he’s barely scratched into pro ball and isn’t a major player on most prospect lists. I, however, am somewhat enamored by Hernandez. As the only one on the Pitcher List Dynasty team to rank him on their top 100 (98th overall), I think he’s a slugger in the making.
He was signed by the Texas Rangers back in December of 2017 for just $10,000 as an older prospect. Hernandez, the 20-year-old catcher/outfielder/designated hitter, just reached Low-A last year after spending most of the previous two years in Rookie League. His numbers have been pretty bonkers since his debut in 2018. His combined slash line over the two years is .320/.450/.635 with 23 home runs in 113 games played. What?
Okay, let’s step back for a second. We have to remember he’s essentially been age-appropriate for both years (except for his 10 PAs in Low-A). Even still, those numbers can’t be all luck, right? Let’s discuss his tools.
40-Grade Floor/60-Grade Ceiling
Hernandez has shown an ability to hit the ball to all fields for power thanks partially to stellar bat control. He has been predominantly a pull hitter so far in his short career, with pull rates above 44% each year. Like most young hitters, he’s seen his groundball rate climb at each new level. His 44.7% rate in 2019 isn’t ideal for a hitter of his type but it’s nothing to be worried about. His pulled groundball percentage, however, is a touch more concerning at 65.5% and will have to go down if he’s to maximize his potential.
Two things working in his favor are his bat speed and the length of his arms. These allow him to get the barrel to the ball almost anywhere in the zone, barreling even the toughest pitches he sees. Take this hit grabbed by @NewbergReport from this must-read article at The Athletic:
Thanks to his short, stubby arms he’s quite short to the ball. His bat speed is so elite that he can hit fastballs high and inside that most players his age can only dream about getting to.
While he features some amazing hard contact ability, he also currently swing-and-miss stuff that could hinder the hit tool long-term. A 25% strikeout rate (and unbelievably bad 22.1% swinging-strike rate) in Rookie League last year is hard to survive with but not the end-all-be-all. He’s able to identify breaking pitches quite well and stay back on them when he needs to, adjusting in the middle of plate appearances. He can also take advantage of pitches located poorly. With that being said, he currently prefers to damage fastballs. His 12% walk rate is playable and he’s shown a willingness to be patient in shorter stints. He needs to find an approach that allows him to tap into the raw power he possesses without selling out for it.
Raw Power Tool
60-Grade Floor/70-Grade Ceiling
Can you tell I think Hernandez is going to mash? His power is legit. His average flyball distance in Rookie ball was 313 feet, which was second best for players under 20 with a minimum of 20 flyballs. Is that a convoluted stat? MAYBE BUT STILL! Okay, fine. You want the goooooooooood stuff. His averaged pulled flyball distance was 359.6 feet. He had three total home runs in 2019 over 420 feet, two more than power phenom Marco Luciano. His average exit velocity was 95 mph (yes, you read that right), tied with known baseball destroyer Connor Cannon. Major leaguers that averaged 95+mph exit velocities?: Aaron Judge. That’s it. Oh, Hernandez also had a max exit velocity of 112 MPH, tied with 70-grade power prospect Oneil Cruz. He homered twice in three Low-A playoff games for the Spokane Indians.
Like mentioned for his hit tool, his bat speed helps him make use of his power. He uses his sturdy legs well and rotates aggressively, generating a powerful swing from the ground up — sometimes to the point of over-swinging (as emphasized in the GIF below taken by @IsItTheWelsh).
In one of his chats at FanGraphs, Eric Longenhagen fielded a question about Hernandez. His response: “I’ve just never seen a player hit the ball so hard so consistently here in Arizona in my five years of living here.”
Oh heck yeah.
Defensive Value and Home
Honestly, this is the toughest one. While Hernandez played at first base, outfield, and catcher last year, he’s more than likely one of the first two. He doesn’t get rave reviews on his catching abilities, hindering that long-term outlook. He’s not a good enough blocker, he has subpar pop-times, and is a mediocre framer. Even with his above average arm, he likely won’t be able to cut it as a catcher. With that being said, a couple of things could help make his catching passable. He’s only 20 and catching is super hard. With more reps, it’s possible he develops enough to become usable behind the plate, especially if robo umps happen. With that addition alone he could become a super-utility type that can catch in a pinch.
It seemed as though the plan for Hernandez was to get reps at all three positions to just get the bat in the lineup. From organization field Coordinator Matt Hagen (courtesy of @NewbergReport from The Athletic):
“I think the plan right now is to find creative ways to keep his bat in the lineup every day,” Hagen says. “We’re honestly not sure where he will ultimately end up (defensively), but with the trend within the game, we know that versatility will only help his case. He will get plenty of work (in camp) in the outfield on his routes, angles, ground balls and most importantly, in-game reads.”
My feeling is this might have changed with COVID. Hernandez, unfortunately, wasn’t added to the 60-man player pool and will need the added reps in 2021 to get up to speed. If the Rangers want to take advantage of his special bat sooner than later, they should stick him in left-field or first base. His defense will more than likely never be amazing (think 40-grade) so it would be best to hide him at one of those two spots. Or let him become a permanent designated hitter.
Add Hernandez to your dynasty teams. He’s still relatively unknown, even with FanGraphs placing him 117th on their Top Prospect list. You’re going to have to be patient with him as the year of lost development isn’t going to help. He’s more than likely two years away, with him starting 2021 in Low-A or High-A. Who knows though. Maybe we have the next Yordan Alvarez on our hands.
Graphic by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)