Welcome to Over the Monster’s One Big Question series. For those unfamiliar, this is something of a season roster preview where over the next 40(ish) (week)days we’ll be taking a look at each player on the 40-man roster prior to the season. If changes are made to the roster between now and Opening Day, we’ll cover the newly added players. Rather than previewing what to expect in a general sense, the goal of this series is to find one overarching question for each player heading into the coming season. We’ll go one-by-one alphabetically straight down the roster, and today we talk about Marco Hernández.
The Question: Can Marco Hernández recover from his injuries and make it back to the majors?
I have a “type” when it comes to prospects, and the Red Sox have been nice enough to produce a handful of players with this specific profile over the last few years. If you’ve followed my writing for long enough, you probably know the type. They are usually middle infielder, though sometimes outfielders qualify. More importantly, they are athletic, provide value on the bases, play good defense and hit line drives. They also generally don’t produce a ton of power at the plate. I think these players are generally undervalued, but more importantly they are super fun to watch. Mauricio Dubon is the prototypical example of this kind of prospect, but Carlos Asuaje also applied. Jarren Duran could be the current version of this player. And, not too long ago, Marco Hernández looked like the one most likely to make an impact with the big-league club.
I remember seeing him for the first time in Portland not too long after the team had acquired him from the Cubs. I knew the name, but not much about the player, and he stood out in a big way. Hernández made a few impressive plays at shortstop and was spraying line drives all over the field. I was hooked, and he made his major-league debut the next year. He performed solidly in that time, and in 2017 it looked like it was time for him to turn into that kind of first-division utility player (I’m not sure that’s a real term but I’m using it!) he had the potential to be.
Unfortunately, things hit a snag in that 2017 season, and it’s derailed his entire career since then. Hernández played in only 21 games that year, and he hasn’t appeared in a game since. He went down with a shoulder injury that year, eventually requiring surgery. He came back into camp last spring but needed a cleanup procedure in February. He figured he’d need about six weeks after that before he could get back to it. Then...we just never heard anything again. The infielder never got back to swinging, and eventually he had to undergo yet another major shoulder surgery in July, causing him to miss the rest of the year. Suddenly, the guy who looked ready to take a key bench spot in the organization essentially missed two full seasons with major injuries. It’s really, really hard to come back from something like that.
Generally when we think of arm injuries in baseball, we think of pitching. When a pitcher suffers a shoulder injury, it’s perfectly natural to hold your breath and wait for the worst. Hitters don’t really get that same treatment, but a shoulder injury can be just as devastating for those with the bat. If you think about the mechanics of a swing, the shoulder driving the bat through the zone is obviously key to that. If you don’t have strength or confidence in your shoulder, the swing and in turn the power is going to suffer. Guys like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Michael Brantley have undergone shoulder surgery and taken some time to get back to their previous form.
Hernández, meanwhile, is not the quality of hitter of any of those guys and has had two surgeries since the last time he’s played organized, affiliated ball. Although he’s not a superstar-caliber player, though, he could certainly be useful. The 26-year-old can play either middle infield spot well enough, though the other side-effect of his shoulder ailments could be a decrease in arm strength. His arm at shortstop may not be what it was pre-injury. At the plate, he’s more of a doubles hitter than a home run hitter, but he has a good, strong swing and can hit line drives all over the diamond. Essentially, he’s about average across the board besides power, but again that is all from before the injury. There’s no telling if he’ll be able to get back to that level in 2019.
For the Red Sox, it would certainly be a big deal if he could. It’s no secret that this team has some real question marks at second base, which would be where Hernández fits best. We all know the issues for Boston. Dustin Pedroia is pegged as the starter right now, but he’s had major injury issues of his own and no one knows if he’ll be able to stay healthy, never mind how close to his old production he’ll get. Brock Holt is coming off a great year, but he’s always struggled to hold up in full-time roles. Eduardo Núñez can’t really be worse than he was last year, but even if he gets back to his old numbers at the plate nothing he did in 2018 would make us comfortable with him back at second base. Esteban Quiroz would have been an interesting backup plan, but he’s now with the Padres after the trade that brought Colten Brewer to Boston. The Red Sox have options here, but it’s not hard to see plans going awry in short order.
Unfortunately, it’s probably not a great idea to bank on Hernández being a solution to any problems that arise. Even if he’s at full-strength again — which is a big, big if — he will need significant time to get his timing back where it was. The Red Sox are planning on him spending most, if not all, of this coming season in the minors as he tries to do that. Hernández is a lot of fun and a valuable player for a major-league club when healthy. The Red Sox could really use him getting back to that level, though it’ll be a lot easier said than done.