New position, new challenges for Hernandez
No. 18 prospect in Phils' system is being put through the wringer in switch to outfield
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Cesar Hernandez rose quickly through the Phillies' Minor League system as a second baseman. The dirt on the right side of the infield was his comfort zone.
Recently, however, Hernandez has been in foreign territory. He's patrolling the spacious grass of center field after the Phils asked him to switch positions in an effort to give the 23-year-old more potential options at the Major League level.
Hernandez -- who had a spell with Philadelphia in June when the team needed an infielder -- accepted the challenge, and the Venezuela native has had his share of growing pains. In his first 11 games as a center fielder (three with Double-A Reading and eight with Triple-A Lehigh Valley), Hernandez committed three errors and misplayed a few other balls.
"He's got a lot to learn," Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage said. "I think we're asking a lot from him, for a young man who has only played second base ... he's made some errors. He's made some mistakes out there. I think the sooner we get him comfortable out there is the sooner we see the light come on."
Hernandez started splitting time between center field and second base on July 4 for Lehigh Valley. But when Phillies center fielder Ben Revere broke a bone in his right foot on July 13, Hernandez's trial in the outfield garnered more attention.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. initially said Philadelphia would see how Hernandez acclimates to the outfield to see if he could possibly be used at the Major League level this season, though that now seems unlikely. But with the team hoping to re-sign second baseman Chase Utley -- who is in the final year of his contract -- Hernandez's change could have the Phils using him differently down the road.
The position permutation surprised Hernandez, a lifelong second baseman. And it also called for the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder to get some new equipment.
"I called my agent and said, 'I needed an outfield glove,'" Hernandez said. "He said 'Why?' [I said], 'Because I am playing center field.'"
Before this month, Hernandez had one lone appearance in the outfield in his professional career, and it came in 2007 when he was playing in the Venezuelan Summer League. Hernandez said he did have other outfield experience, but it was not quite the same challenge he is currently facing.
"In Venezuela, sometimes we would play softball, just joking, and I would play the outfield," said Hernandez, who recalled these softball games were when he was 11 or 12 years old.
Hernandez is rated as the Phillies' No. 18 prospect by MLB.com, and he hit .250 (7-for-28) in his nine-game stint in the big leagues. The switch-hitter had a .306 average and a .372 on-base percentage in his first 84 games with Lehigh Valley, along with 28 stolen bases. Hernandez does not hit for much power, accounting for just two homers and 29 RBIs.
His speed and athleticism are reasons why the Phils are giving Hernandez a look in center, and for now, the attention is on his defense. Brundage said Hernandez is taking extra rounds of fly balls every day, and the manager added he also took him aside for 15 minutes Saturday, just to discuss playing in center.
Hernandez said the one aspect he has struggled with the most is going back on fly balls over his head, and Brundage agreed.
"As a second baseman, you go right and left an awful lot," Brundage said. "But [he's struggling] on some balls that are back over his head that are deep, that he's having a [tough time] getting to, or getting a jump on."
Whether it is extra work shagging fly balls during batting practice or getting in-game pointers from other outfielders when he is out of position, Hernandez is trying to make the position switch work. Brundage said it may take some time, but he thinks Hernandez has the skill set to make it work -- even if Hernandez is out of his comfort zone.
"He's got the tools to do it," Brundage said. "It's just a matter of how soon he's going to pick it up."
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.