Cristian Hernandez – Picture by Rich Biesterfeld
It’s getting to be that time of year where we can look back at the 2022 season and reflect at how we examined prospects. In doing so, a weakness has always been analyzing players in the Dominican and Arizona. It’s hard to get good eyes on them and there’s not a lot of video. Even if there is some, it might just be one swing. We rarely get to see a whole AB and we don’t get to see them game after game after game. And that’s really the best way to evaluate talent.
Instead, we tend to rely a little bit too much on some of the major publications like Baseball America or MLB Pipeline who have some international coverage. Sometimes, that’s not a good thing as those writers are also only getting brief glimpses of the players for a game or two at a time.
When it comes to Cristian Hernandez, he might be the perfect example of coverage gone wrong. That might be a stretch to phrase it that way, but expectations were set pretty high for the young shortstop. From six months before the Cubs signed him, Hernandez was being hyped up and compared to, at least physically, Manny Machado and Alex Rodriguez. And to be quite frank, there was probably no way he could have lived up to that hype, at least at this point in his career.
His first year the DSL went OK but he didn’t set the world on fire but he did just fine hitting .285 with a .398 OBP. He hit 5 dingers in 47 games and drove in 22. He struck out just 39 times and walked 30 times. Those are decent numbers to go along with a 132 wRC+.
When he came stateside this year, my hope was that everything would click and he would make it to Myrtle Beach at some point at age 18. Whether that would be in the second half or near the end of the season, it didn’t really matter.
That promotion never happened.
Hernandez did not have a bad year, his stats didn’t live up to the hype that everyone had built up for him, including us at North Side Bound. He’s just a kid; he’s basically the same age as a recent high school graduate right now. Looking at the stats from this past season, It’s clear that he has some things to work on, but he’s not floundering. He seems to be holding his own and producing, just not at the rate that we would expect. The strikeout rate is a concern but he hit .261 with a .320 OBP and he only hit 3 HRs. But he didn’t bomb out. He didn’t hit under .200 and go homerless. He just did not live up to the hype. He’s still just 18.
Who knows, maybe there are some things that we are not privy to that the Cubs had him working on to try and improve his high strikeout rate or to make more consistent contact.
But this much is clear, regardless of our expectations, the bar was set too high for him heading into this year.
Let’s put some things into context.
There are several struggles that international players face when coming stateside. The first one is that they are living in a foreign country and Hernandez was only 18. And no matter how much American culture leaks into the Dominican, it’s quite different living here than seeing it on TV or in the movies or on YouTube or TikTok. It can be a struggle being away from home for an extended period the very first time.
In addition, the second struggle has always been facing advanced competition. One of the flaws of the current international system has always been that once a kid is attached to a certain team, he’s shut down and is basically cut off from what we might think of as organized game-like activity.
Whatever the case may be for this season, Hernandez followed it up with a good fall at instructs which bodes well heading into the winter where he can improve himself to get ready for a 132 game schedule next year. He is going to have his work cut out for him to get physically AND mentally ready for that kind of grind. He moved up on the FanGraphs list top prospect list to number 4 on the Cubs’ list and 57 overall. And he is still highly well thought of by the Cubs organization. I mean, really, how can you not love this swing below.
Is this really much ado about nothing?
Are some people over reacting to the fact that he didn’t tear the cover off the ball in Arizona this summer?
More than likely, yes.
Did people expect too much too soon for him, including us?
That would be a yes as well.
With that being said, is the talent still there?
Of course it is. It’s never left. The potential is still evident. Sometimes, it just takes a while to settle in and engage.
Think about it this way….
The goal is to get Cristian Hernandez ready for the major leagues. That is the pure and simple goal of him playing in the Cubs minor league system. It is not for him to tear the cover off the ball in Mesa, Arizona. The goal is for him to do that in Chicago. He needs to get there at his own pace. We need to remember those goals as fans, a website, and a baseball community. It is not always about now.