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2017 Phillies Player Preview: Re-calibrating Cesar Hernandez

Somebody upgraded the second baseman in 2016. He still needed some tinkering.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Philadelphia Phillies Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

"Sliding is just flying on the ground," someone told Cesar Hernandez once, and he really took it to heart.

To this day, he soars from base to base, at times too far and into oblivion. By now, you’ve heard the stories, the cracked jokes, the fabled wives’ tales.

"Cesar Hernandez once stole all of the bases and scrambled over the right field wall."

"Remember that time Cesar Hernandez was cornered by predators but then burrowed into the soft earth and out of their grasp."

"Eat your vegetables or Cesar Hernandez will snatch you up and run away in every direction at once."

By now, we’ve heard them all. The truth is, after garnering a reputation as something of a clumsy base runner, Hernandez also had the best year of his career at 26 years old. He led the team - and the sport - in triples (11), hit .294, had a .371 OBP, and stole 17 bases. Out of 30 attempts. We all know this. Great year, bad moments.

The good news is, there’s 15 pounds more of Cesar this season and he intends to use that new strength to muscle more line drives. He says his weight gain won't be a burden on his speed, and fully intends to steal 30 bases in 2017. Pete Mackanin called Hernandez "one of the fastest players in baseball," which means he has already fantasized about utilizing his infielder’s speed for something other than just video montages backed by circus music.

The bad news is, Phillies training camp is swarming with second baseman.

The club will have a prospect playing second base in Triple A (Jesmuel Valentin) and Double A (Scott Kingery) this season. And lest we forget, second base still could be a landing spot for Freddy Galvis if shortstop J.P. Crawford ascends to Philadelphia. Also, left fielder Howie Kendrick is a natural second baseman so he could be in the picture if the Phillies decided to capitalize on Hernandez’s trade value.

Do you remember anybody but "glove only" Freddy Galvis being considered a follow-up to the Utley Era? I don't, really, and now these middle infielders are crawling all over each other just to see the sun. With the Phillies' top prospect playing shortstop, the clock is ticking for either Galvis or Hernandez, not to mention the somewhat thrilling Scott Kingery, as well as whatever X factors have yet to be dropped on the situation, it makes you wonder what is in the cards for a player like Hernandez. Both he and Galvis showed important steps forward last season, putting up numbers that made people have to shrug and nod while discussing their gaping flaws. At the very least, there is the potential for higher trade value (Hernandez was connected to interest from the Dodgers and Angels this winter) should everything go well, which as previous baseball seasons have taught us, they always do.

Hernandez and the Phillies joined forces to defeat arbitration last month, and the second baseman is the owner of a one-year, $2.55 million deal that will keep him around for now. Let's check in on if he's still swinging and missing at curveballs.


The fact is, the Phillies, and anyone else who was watching last season, have no reason not to expect Hernandez to improve upon his break-out season in 2016. There's just the glaring weakness of his base-running to consider, but that was so cartoonishly glaring that there is no way it could be the norm. Juan Samuel and Mickey Morandini, both base stealing professors, have been conversing and practicing with Hernandez to get his head on straight when he gets on base.

Hernandez is apparently one of the guys who, when he starts running, can't seem to stop, like Jeff Francoeur, or the Juggernaut. Samuel has said that there were times when Hernandez should have come back to first on a stolen base attempt, having not gotten a good jump, but just continued, as he gains speed while he runs. That's not going to work. Neither is having a different lead every time he's on base. These concepts appear to have registered with Hernandez, and everybody seems to be on the page to slash those Caught Stealing numbers down in 2017. Of course, this is spring training; everybody's got big plans. If Hernandez goes out there and gets cut down on opening day, the takes will start crackling.

But Hernandez can do something not a lot of the Phillies' lineup was able to do with regularity: get on base. As the lead-off hitter, making 68 starts at the top of the order for Mackanin, his job is to be an annoyance. Staying on base was his problem, as stated, but his .371 OBP was the best on the team. Odubel Herrera was nipping at his heels at .361, but beyond that, the competition wasn't very close. This isn't super surprising for a team that scored the fewest runs in baseball last season (610, urgh), but it is an area where the Phillies' few successes can't be ignored.

The pieces are all there - he doesn't lack in either of those things, it's just a matter of harnessing his powers to be used in a way that continue to make him a threat, not a dejected out sitting on the bench. With as much work as the coaching staff has put in with this young team already, it's easy to feel confident that somebody like Samuel can mold Hernandez into the threat that he could really be. He just better do it fast, because there might be some sizzling talent on the way.