Going Bananas for Kiké Hernandez

Remember when the Dodgers were so flush with players that they couldn’t regularly find all of them playing time? How many times do we see this same thing play out with starting pitchers? Either situation seems to always play itself out either with underperformance of one or more of those involved or, and this is usually the case, by injury.

The Dodgers have had a cluster of talent vying for playing time on the infield just within their 25-man roster before we even account for Corey Seager knocking on the door in the minors, but a pair of injuries – one a long-term situation – has cleared the path for one of their bench bats to get something of an extended looking. Justin Turner is recovering from a skin infection on his thigh and should return this week (could even be today), but Howie Kendrick’s hamstring strain will leave sidelined for at least three weeks.

Enrique Hernandez (aka Kike, pronounced Key-kay) was essentially a throw-in piece in the Dee GordonAndrew Heaney deal. By the way, it is often referenced as the Gordon-Heaney deal, but there were five others players in that trade: Hernandez, Dan Haren, Austin Barnes, Chris Hatcher, and Miguel Rojas. It was the second deal that Hernandez had essentially been thrown into that year. He went with Jarred Cosart and Austin Wates to Miami for Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran, and Francis Martes.

The former sixth-round pick wasn’t regarded as a key cog to either deal, but the 23-year old do-everything fielder (SS 15 gms, LF 14, 2B 12, CF 8, and RF 2) just might be ready to make an impact. Let’s be honest, he already has in the 147 PA he’s accumulated thus far with a 130 wRC+ thanks to 5 HRs and 17 XBHs altogether (out of 37 total hits), but I think he can continue to flourish even with some extended playing time, which can lead to overexposure at times.

Hernandez doesn’t have a standout tool, but instead is capable across the board. He has made great contact at every minor league stop save a 64 PA sample at Oklahoma City to kick off this year where he had a 22% K rate (which still isn’t awful). He has been virtually the same in his MLB work this year at 21% which is just a tick worse than the 20% league average. He had a 12% mark in his first 2137 minor league PA and a 16% in 134 PA with the Astros and Marlins last year so he could reasonably improve upon his 21% with more playing time this year consider that 10 his 31 Ks have come as a sub. He has a 17% K rate in 123 PA as a starter, 41% in 24 PA as a substitute.

He carried a 7% BB rate in the minors and has been at 8% as a big leaguer. He has been as low at 4% (Rookie Ball at a 17-year old) and as high as 12% (twice, once aa a 19-year old at A-ball and last year during a brief Triple-A stint after being dealt to Miami). He’s been at 7% with the Dodgers this year which is just a half percentage point below the league average. I think his walk rate is something that will improve, but it might take more than extended look this year. I could see him evolving into the 9-11% range as he becomes more established. The 7% rate works for now.

His power has been on the rise since 2011, getting incrementally better in the lead up to his breakout 2014 when he has an .856 OPS that yielded a .165 ISO. The chart below shows it sinking in 2015, but that’s the 64 PA at OKC that I’m not putting much stock into one way or the other. Even if he’d gone off and wound up with a .250 ISO or something, it would still just be 64 PA. That 2014 effort came in 416 PA. As a major leaguer, he has shown even more power than we saw in minor league stop, posting a .174 ISO last year and carrying a killer .218 so far this year. Both of those are small samples, too, though still more meaningful than the 64 PA at Triple-A earlier this year.

In this interview at House of Houston, Hernandez talked about making changes after his 2013 during which he had a .672 OPS in 483 PA at Double-A Corpus Christi.

EH: “After last year, what I would like to call the worst season of my career, I went into winter ball and decided to figure out what was wrong with my swing. I tried a few things, not really worried about how my season was going, I was just trying to get better and there it was. I tweaked a little something in my batting stance and it clicked. All of the sudden I was seeing the ball better, recognizing pitches a lot earlier and I started driving the ball again.

I’ll never forget what long time big leaguer Felipe Lopez told me the year before, “Kike whenever you’re really hot at the plate, you can compare and you know what you’re doing wrong.” And so far that’s been it for me, not trying to think of my numbers or anything that I can’t control. Just trying to put competitive at-bats, just trying to smoke the ball somewhere.”

It seems those changes have paid off as he’s put up his best work since then, both in the majors and minors. Even including the lame Triple-A work this season, he has a .286/.342/.456 line with 20 HR, 80 RBI, and 97 R in 761 PA, all but 43 of which were at Triple-A and the majors.

Hernandez isn’t a burner on the base paths, but he isn’t devoid of speed, either. His minor league success rate was poor at just 63% (29-for-46) and he’s only tried once as a major league (and didn’t make it), but this is something that I think we’ll see evolve with regular playing time. A random start here or pinch-hit appearance there makes it hard to get in a groove as a base stealer, especially if you aren’t just an overwhelming burner like Jarrod Dyson, who could probably steal a couple bases minutes after a nap. I don’t think he’ll be a prominent base stealer even at his very best, but high single-digit/low double-digit totals are definitely in play.

Hernandez’s shortstop eligibility gives him intrigue in just about all formats as an everyday player. To understand the barren wasteland that is shortstop this year, consider that teammates Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera are rated 7th and 12th at the position on ESPN’s Player Rater. They are both having above average seasons so credit to them, but the 4.16 rating that Hernandez has to sit seventh would’ve rated him 15th at the position last year.

If you’re looking for a comp, I think Kike Hernandez could be like Jung-ho Kang statistically. The high end would be emulating the current Kang that we’re seeing: .296/.371/.459 though he is more likely to be around the Kang projections. ZiPs has Kang for a .252/.323/.412 line, while Steamer says .262/.322/.416 the rest of the way. ZiPS says as much itself with a .259/.310/.410 line for Hernandez, but Steamer is much more pessimistic with both his line and playing time at .230/.279/.353 in just 91 PA.





Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Rob
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Rob

I think it’s worth mentioning that Jose Peraza’s callup will cut into Hernandez’ playing time, as so far they have had a time share at second base, but they did play together in yesterday’s game, so I have no idea how Mattingly is going to use these guys.