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One Big Question: Can Marco Hernandez work his way back to the top of the infield depth crop

His recovery from the shoulder injury is a bigger blow to the Red Sox than it originally seemed.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the One Big Question series here at Over The Monster. For those who weren’t around for last year’s series or simply forgot what it entails — there’s a lot going on in the world today, so don’t be ashamed! — here’s a brief reminder. Every day, Monday through Friday, for the next eight weeks we’ll profile a new member of Red Sox 40-man roster. Rather than simply going through a simple profile of their overall game and what they offer the team, we’ll focus on the one question that could very well dictate how their season will go in 2018. In order to keep the order objective and avoid side conversations like ranking the players on the roster, we’ll go straight down the roster in alphabetical order by position. In other words, we’ll go by how things are ordered here. If you miss any editions or would like to look back on some of last year’s, you can see all of them here. Today, we’re looking at Marco Hernandez.

The Question: Can Marco Hernandez work his way back up the Red Sox depth chart?

With the re-emergence of Blake Swihart this spring, the catching position has become the biggest story of camp of late. Most of the focus around the roster revolves around the former top prospect and if he can take over Sandy Leon’s role. Despite that, the most interesting spot on the roster likely still remains at second base, as we don’t know what Dustin Pedroia’s status will be this year. Eduardo Nuñez shored up the position a bit in Pedroia’s absence, but the depth beyond that is still questionable. Deven Marrero is the defensive stalwart without options who probably should be kept but may not be. Brock Holt is the carryover from previous years who has provided big, perhaps underrated, value with the Red Sox but has struggled in recent years. Tzu-Wei Lin showed exciting flashes in 2017 and has a strong defensive base. Esteban Quiroz has an intriguing track record in the Mexican League but is a virtual unknown for our purposes. Ivan De Jesus is off to a scorching start in spring training. Amidst all of these flawed options, Marco Hernandez has become something of a forgotten man after getting shut down from activities during camp. He’s hoping to make his way back to the Red Sox at some point in 2018, though, and the team will likely be better off if that happens.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ll recall, the majority of the offseason was spent with the idea that Hernandez was the favorite to take over as the starting second baseman while Pedroia started the year on the disabled list. Obviously, that wouldn’t have remained the case once Nuñez was signed, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Hernandez went down early in 2017 with a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the entire season, and he still hasn’t been able to recover completely. He had to go back to Boston to get “hardware” removed from his shoulder and has been shut down from spring activities. Although we don’t really know the severity of this setback or how long it will keep him on the shelf, it does appear he’ll start the year on the disabled list. What is clear is that he won’t have a clear path to the major-league roster and that there will now be a definite pitstop back in Pawtucket whenever he’s healthy.

Although we don’t know how long it will take for Hernandez to get to full strength, if he can get there at all, it’s safe to say that the Red Sox could really use him back at that level. There’s, of course, the obvious reason that Boston could simply use as many bodies at as many positions as possible. But even beyond that, Hernandez is probably their best depth option of this group even if he doesn’t have the standout tool that some others have. Marrero and Lin have the superb gloves that can play a big role off the bench. Holt has the versatility that is even more important in today’s game with ever-expanding bullpens. Hernandez, though, has the best bat of this bunch and is a solid enough baserunner and defender that he won’t be a negative in those areas of the game.

That is why one of the biggest keys of the early seasons on the Red Sox farm won’t be the performances of some of the top prospects or some of the low-level sleepers, but rather that of Hernandez. While his shoulder ailment doesn’t appear to be the type that will keep him out of commission for an extended period of time again, there are few things worse for a hitter than a hurt shoulder. Even for someone who doesn’t hit for big-time power like Hernandez, the shoulder is important to generate strength behind any swings. The Red Sox infielder gets by on a strong hit tool that can spray line drives all over the field and, at his peak, produce above-average batting averages on balls in play year in and year out. If he doesn’t have the shoulder strength to produce that kind of contact, he becomes another very flawed and unexciting depth option in Pawtucket’s infield.

It’s impossible to say from where we stand what kind of chances Hernandez has at recovering back to full strength. There haven’t been any indications from those in the know that this is a major worry, but it also didn’t appear that he would be in danger of missing such significant spring training time just a couple months ago. With Dustin Pedroia still a relative unknown in the health department and all of the other infield options lacking a bat to rely on, Hernandez’ ability to get back to full strength could be a huge factor in how productive Boston’s bench will be in the coming season. Unfortunately, it will be hard to say for sure how his recovery is going until we see him in action, and that won’t come until Pawtucket’s season has already gotten underway.