Cristian Hernandez – Picture by Rich Biesterfeld
With spring training less than two weeks away for minor league players, probably the biggest question out there about Cubs prospects is just exactly where shortstop Cristian Hernandez is going to play this summer. We are not going to know until the end of spring training on whether he is going to break camp with Myrtle Beach, head to extended Spring training and then possibly head to Myrtle Beach mid summer, or stay in Mesa and play in the Arizona Complex League with an outside shot of heading to Mesa or Myrtle Beach later in the year.
Hernandez had a successful first year in the minors hitting .285 with five home runs in 47 games. He had a wRC+ of 132 and an amazing walk rate of 15.7%. For a young kid to walk that much is just astounding! What that tells us is that he has a pretty good idea of the strike zone and he’s not going outside of it and chasing pitches in a league where the stereotype is that you have to “hit your way off the island.” For a 17-year-old kid in the DSL, I will take his results every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
For most of this winter, Hernandez has been in Arizona working. Whether it was fall instructs or any one of several mini camps, his inclusion in those groupings really tells you a lot of how highly the Cubs think of him.
On Sunday, I put out a poll about where most people thought Hernandez should begin the year.
Of the three choices, more people selected that it was too soon for him to head to Myrtle Beach. I can see that argument. Going from the Dominican Summer League to Low-A is quite the jump in talent. He’s not going to find college pitchers like Cole Wilcox in Mesa chewing him up on the first day of the season like some players did last spring at Myrtle Beach. What the Cubs want to avoid is something that’s too challenging that he can’t dig his way out of and he loses confidence and everything breaks down.
I can also see the measured approach of having him go to extended spring training and getting experience with the American culture before joining Myrtle Beach.
But despite those two points of view and the logic behind them, all signs don’t point that way. Instead, everything is pointing towards Hernandez being in Myrtle Beach on day one.
1. Cubs Know Him Best
Hernandez is now 18 and his success last year clearly put him in the crosshairs of being one of the Cubs’ top prospects. No matter what you or I think of Hernandez, we don’t really know him best. We did not get to see him play 47 games last summer, work with him one on one all winter long, or coach him through instructs and spring training. The Cubs did. They know him better than we do and it’s their decision and if they think he’s ready, then they think he’s ready.
2. All the Pieces Are in Place
The main reason the legend Buddy Bailey is in Myrtle Beach is the Cubs want their best managers working with the youngest players to help advance their development. We saw what Buddy could do in Low-A South Bend in 2019 as well with Myrtle Beach in 2017. What Buddy Bailey does best is he teaches a player how to grind it out. In addition to teaching the finer points of the game on a daily basis, Bailey really instills how to work hard every day regardless of the outcome the day before. Some may call it an approach, some call it a process, while others just call it the grind. That’s what Hernandez is going to get to learn playing 140 games and there’s no better teacher for that than Bailey.
3. The Hitting Coach
Usually, who the Cubs have at Low-A for their hitting coach does not get me fired up. This winter, the opposite is true. Steve Pollakov will be the main guy at Myrtle Beach working with Hernandez. That’s a good sign as Pollakov was the hitting coach in the Dominican last year and worked with Hernandez. So, there’s some continuity there. There’s a built-in safety net and the structure for Hernandez to deal with hitting on a daily basis for 140 games. Sometimes that social/emotional support that familiarity provides could be the key to Hernandez dealing with the ups and downs of a 140-game season. There’s no doubt in my mind Hernandez is going to struggle at times if he heads to Myrtle Beach. How he handles it is just as important. With Pollakov there, that really cushions Hernandez when he has issues, and he will have them.
4. The Made Precedent
Last year Kevin Made played 58 games for Myrtle Beach as an 18-year-old. After dealing with some minor injuries to start the year, he basically took over the shortstop position in July and dazzled many of us with his contact ability and hitting prowess. While still having a low walk rate, Made earned plaudits from many Cub prospect writers as they gushed about his defensive and offensive talents. Made’s experience at 18 is definitely going to have an impact on how the Cubs deal with Hernandez. More than likely, the Cubs looked at what they did right with Kevin Made and what they could improve on with Hernandez and others just as young.
When it comes right down to it, how Hernandez does in spring training will have the biggest effect on where he goes. Regardless of what any of us think about the youngster, he’s got to show that he’s ready for this. And that’s gonna happen every day in March until the first week of April. Then we’ll find out. I would like to see him in Myrtle Beach. If he’s there all year, great. But the Cubs have the infrastructure needed to support him and to develop him over the course of the season.
We shall see where this month goes and then about April 3 or 4, we will find out just exactly where he will be on April 8, Opening Day.