Will Cesar Hernandez be with the Phillies in 2018? (Frank Klose/SportsTalkPhilly)
Nearly a week into August, the Philadelphia Phillies will soon find themselves able to bring up some extra bats with expanded rosters. One of the bats that seemingly could make the jump is second baseman Scott Kingery. Kingery has moved from Double-A to Triple-A this season and it appears he could be ready to make the final jump to Philadelphia. Right now, the position is blocked by Cesar Hernandez, who has been steady at second. With Kingery lurking, it may be time to evaluate where Hernandez falls in the club's future plans.
It is never a bad thing to have too much talent—but here we are finding the Phillies with two players that project to be very competent second baseman in the future. While only Hernandez has proven that he can hold the position at the Major League level, Kingery has been unbelievable in the minors and developed more power than most projected.
Hernandez came into the 2017 season off his best season, in which he was good enough for 4.4-WAR, per FanGraphs. That total came from being better than league average on both offense and defense. On offense, Hernandez finished with a .294/.371/.393 slash with a 108 wRC+. While his slugging total was underwhelming, the ability to get on-base, especially from the leadoff spot, was important for Philadelphia.
On the defensive end, Hernandez finished with four defensive runs saved on the season and a 13.5-UZR, which was the best total in baseball in 2016. When adding the above league-average offensive performance to the elite second-base defense that Hernandez provided last season, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Phillies are in a position to consider him a piece for the future.
In 2017, Hernandez opened the season red-hot with five home runs in the early going. If that power held, it would certainly help his future value — but it didn’t. Hernandez also suffered an injury that cost him some plate appearances this season. In his 77 games, Hernandez has posted a .294/.364/.418 slash with 2.0-WAR. That is valuable as it would appear that Hernandez would again be on pace for a 3-4-win season.
His defense hasn’t taken a step back, either. Last season, Hernandez was at second base for 1247.1 innings and recorded four defensive runs saved. While he's yet to post any defensive runs saved in 2017, he's remained steady at the position. Of all second-baseman with 500 innings at the position this season, Hernandez ranks fourth in UZR—which is another positive sign for the 27-year-old.
A main area that Hernandez can improve is his base running. At times during the 2016 season, it appeared that Hernandez had no idea what he was doing on the bases—but he has elite speed among second-baseman, meaning he has high upside as a baserunner. Per StatCast, Hernandez has the fourth-best sprint speed at 28.4 feet-per-second, so the ability to take extra bases and steal bases should be there. Last season, Hernandez attempted to steal 30 bases and was thrown out 13 times—a 56.6-percent success rate. This season, Hernandez has been better in a smaller sample—successfully stealing on 12 of his 15 attempts.
Hernandez has been consistent the past two seasons and will be in his second year of arbitration this offseason—so he is still affordable and controlled. He has also been a 3-4-win type player when healthy the past two years. He could be a good trade candidate this winter if the Phillies don’t see him as the second-baseman of the future.
But maybe Kingery still needs time. While he absolutely destroyed Double-A, we should acknowledge that Reading can inflate a hitter’s numbers. Kingery had a .313/.379/.608 slash in Double-A while playing elite defense and successfully stealing a base on 19 of his 22 attempts.
In his 34 games since getting to Triple-A, Kingery is slashing .298/.331/.468 while continuing his stellar defensive play and being successful on all eight of his stolen base attempts. One concern is that his walk-rate is down to just 3.9-percent at Triple-A from 8.8-percent at Double-A, but that also is in half the sample size. In that same time, Kingery’s strikeout rate is up from 16.1-percent to 23-percent—but we probably shouldn’t worry too much about those numbers in 152 plate appearances. Even with some regression at Triple-A, Kingery has remained quite good and it feels hard to imagine him not being with the major league club next summer.
I believe that Kingery is the second-baseman of the future for the Phillies and unfortunately that may mean the end of Hernandez in Philadelphia. While Hernandez has been a good player for the Phillies, I believe Kingery is a better hitter, fielder and baserunner than Hernandez. Whether Hernandez is on the roster come next spring training is the question—and I am leaning toward him not being here. While he is affordable, that makes him attractive to other teams, too. I don’t believe he can move positions either as he doesn’t profile well at third base and won’t fit the outfield plan for the team. Hernandez has been a good player while in Philadelphia, but he probably doesn’t fit into their future.