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March 16, 2019

Phillies season preview: Will second baseman Cesar Hernandez return to form in 2019?

Over the last two weeks of spring training, the Phillies turn their prep work to get ready for the regular season into overdrive.

We'll do the same thing here at PhillyVoice. As the March 28 season opener against the Braves approaches, we'll break down everything you need to know to get ready for one of the most anticipated Phillies seasons ever.

Let's take a look at second base...

Believe it or not, but Cesar Hernandez is actually one of the longest tenured players on the Phillies. And after all the roster changes the team has undergone in recent years, it's beginning to feel like Hernandez has become somewhat of an afterthought.

That, however, should not be the case. Sure, 2018 wasn't a great year for Hernandez, but despite his struggles, there's a good chance he returns to the lead-off spot this season, a job he's held since taking it from Odubel Herrera during the 2016 season. The addition of Andrew McCutchen this winter could complicate Hernandez's claim to that top spot — McCutchen has taken over the bulk of the leadoff duties the spring as Hernandez recovered from a hip flexor strain. But, when Hernandez returned to lineup earlier this week after missing two and half weeks, manager Gable Kapler put him right back at the top of his order. 

Over the last three seasons, Hernandez has led off 336 times, and if he can get back to type of player he was in 2016 and 2017, when he posted a WAR of at least three in each season, the could find himself putting up some big numbers, especially in terms of runs scored, given the power that is now behind him. 

Let's take a closer look at Hernandez, his drop-off, and what he can do to get back to his 2017 self...

Scouting report

Cesar Hernandez had a down year in 2018 — there's no way around it. 

After first joining the Phillies in 2013, Hernandez really found his stride in 2016, and over the next two seasons, the now 28-year-old second baseman put up some impressive numbers and earned himself the role of lead-off hitter. Over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Hernandez slashed .294/.372/.406 and averaged 156 hits — including 20 doubles, eight triples and eight home runs — to go along with an average of 76 runs, 36 RBI and 16 stolen bases.

In 2018, however, Hernandez saw his offensive numbers take a hit, as he slashed just .253/.356/.362 in Gabe Kapler's first season at the helm. That being said, the Phillies second baseman was still able to post a 1.4 WAR, thanks in large part to his increased ability to draw walks, and score/drive in runs, the latter of which was due to a much better overall lineup around him. Even with his lower on-base numbers, Hernandez was still able to post a career high in both RBI and runs scored in 2018. And that was reportedly while playing much of the second half of the season with a broken bone in his foot. 

Without even improving his owns numbers at the plate, those numbers should increase this season due to the simple fact that he will have Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto and McCutchen all hitting behind him this summer — not to mention a year-older Rhys Hoskins. But should he return to the 2016-2017 version of himself, the top half of the Phillies lineup will be all the more dangerous. 

Of course, all this is assuming that Hernandez actually wins the leadoff spot. The fact that he returned from injury this spring and immediately stepped back into the leadoff spot is an encouraging sign on that end. However, it's worth keeping an eye on throughout the last week-plus of spring training. 

NL East ranking

From veteran Robinson Cano (Mets) to relative newcomer Ozzie Albies (Braves), Hernandez faces some stiff N.L. East competition at the position.

Let's take a look at the other second baseman from around the division and how they each fared last season, as well as what is projecting for each in the 2019 season...

Second baseman 2018 stats2019 proj  Career WAR
PHI Cesar Hernandez (28).253/.356/.362
91 R, 60 RBI
77 R, 47 RBI
ATLOzzie Albies (22).261/.305/.452
105 R, 72 RBI
83 R, 63 RBI
WASBrian Dozier (31).215/.305/.391
81 R, 72 RBI
79 R, 72 RBI
NYMRobinson Cano (36).303/.374/.471
44 R, 50 RBI
55 R, 60 RBI
MIAStarlin Castro (28*).278/.329/.400
76 R, 54 RBI
67 R, 60 RBI

*Will be 29 on Opening Day.

Phillies' future

There was some talk this offseason that Hernandez could be moved, but that didn't wind up materializing, which is probably for the best given his value was likely at its lowest since before the 2016 season. Part of what makes him attractive is the fact that he is under team control for two more years. He'll cost the Phillies $7.75 million in 2019, and then will be eligible for arbitration in 2020. He can then become a free agent for the first time in 2021. 

What the Phillies ultimately decide to do with Hernandez will likely depend on how well he plays this season. The Phillies also have Scott Kingery, who has been moved around quite a bit since his historic contract prior to last season, but who's presence was also likely one of the reasons the Phillies were considering trading Hernandez. Kingery is signed through 2023, with three team-options that could keep him here through 2026. And while he's only appeared in four MLB games at second base, he played almost exclusively second base while climbing his way through the Phillies farm system. 

Should Hernandez not work out, at least it appears the Phillies have a backup plan. 

Phillies season preview
C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | RF | CF | LF | SP | RP | Bench | Coach

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