Cesar Hernandez learning the outfield

Hernandez
Hernandez
Posted: August 23, 2013

EVER SINCE he joined the Phillies farm system at age 16, Cesar Hernandez has proved he can handle everyday second-base duties. Now the organization continues to see what he can do in the outfield.

Although Hernandez had some experimental time in the outfield days before centerfielder Ben Revere was sidelined in mid-July, he was sent to Class AA Reading to work in the outfield immediately after Revere's injury and has played exclusively in the outfield for Class AAA Lehigh Valley since.

The position change appears to be geared toward the 2014 season as the team is in no rush to call up Hernandez to a position he is still learning.

"Why not? It can't hurt to try him out there," general manager Ruben Amaro said of trying Hernandez in centerfield after learning of Revere's fractured ankle.

Although the 23-year-old Venezuelan-born prospect had been an everyday second baseman for the IronPigs through mid-July, he was sent to Reading during the team's three-game series July 15-17, the same time as the IronPigs' All-Star break. Hernandez used the additional time playing the outfield for Reading and finished the series batting 5-for-13 with one RBI.

"I had never played centerfield before," Hernandez said. "I have been playing second base and I like that position because it's not too easy, not too hard and I have fun over there. But I have been practicing in centerfield every day and working hard with catching flyballs."

Hernandez has been considered the organization's top second-base prospect and was signed as an amateur free agent in 2006. Now in his seventh season in the minors, Hernandez has a career .295 batting average with 11 homers, 215 RBI and 146 stolen bases. Reading manager Dusty Wathan coached Hernandez last season and has seen great improvement over the course of just 1 year. Wathan added that he believes Hernandez will eventually be capable of handling everyday centerfield duties, wherever that may be.

"I think he's doing fine. It's just a matter of getting him out there," Wathan said. "He is a great athlete and it's just going to take some time to get him some reps out there, but eventually he will be fine. I've had him for a couple of years and he is very well-rounded. He's been a guy that developed some gap power and this year has stolen a lot of bases and has gotten better with his jumps and things."

Like Revere, Hernandez has good speed, hits for average and can steal a few bases. Unlike Revere, he is an infielder by trade and still has to prove that he can be comfortable in the outfield before making the next step.

"He is a good defensive second baseman, a great switch-hitter and he hits well from both sides of the plate so he is a well-rounded guy," Wathan said. "He is a nice guy to teach the outfield to and give us some more options in the major leagues to have him contribute to the ball club."

Hernandez has developed steadily with each promotion he has earned. In his best season statistically in 2012 with Reading and Lehigh Valley, he batted .291/.329/.404 with 21 stolen bases and 57 RBI. Hernandez added a career best 12 triples - 11 of which came in 103 games with Reading.

"I think he started to learn a lot of things about his game last season," Wathan said. "I think he was pressed through the organization fairly quickly and responded to a lot of it. I think he realized that he had to use his legs; he knows he has to bunt and be a guy that can steal bases. He has to learn to use his whole game and I think he is learning to do that, especially this year. He has been a lot more aggressive on the bases and stole a lot more bases and he did it at a very good rate."

Hernandez' response to a strong 2012 season has been a .316/.381/.416 line to this point in the season with nine triples, two homers, 32 RBI and 31 stolen bases. His tools and abilities are the reason Amaro wants to see if he could play in the outfield, with Chase Utley holding down second base in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.

"I love the way he plays," Reading third baseman Maikel Franco said of Hernandez. "He plays for heart and I admire his style. He is a very good player and he will be successful wherever he is."

Hernandez has already seen time with the Phillies, making his major league debut on May 29. In 28 at-bats, he batted .250 with one double and one RBI. Hoping to earn another promotion this season with the playoff window shut for the Phillies, Hernandez must prove that he is comfortable enough in the outfield first.

"It's a matter of getting him out there and getting him comfortable kind of like we did with [Darin] Ruf last year and getting him as many reps as we can and it's really up to him to see where he feels hopefully in a week, 10 days, 2 weeks, or a year," Wathan said. "It depends on how he progresses obviously."

With the centerfield experiment in full throttle, Hernandez suffered a wrist injury that sidelined him for nearly 3 weeks. The converted outfielder returned as a pinch-hitter on Aug. 11 and was back in the everyday lineup on Aug. 16, where the experiment resumed. W Time will tell if he will remain in the outfield in the future or return to the infield.

"If you said to him 'You need to go play centerfield tomorrow in Philadelphia,' I would probably say no," Wathan said. "Ultimately it wouldn't be my decision, but he needs more time. I think that would be asking an awful lot of a guy to move to a totally new position after just a few games."

On Twitter: @JohnMurrow12

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