Welcome to the annual Over The Monster One Big Question season preview series. Over the next 40(ish) days, we will be running through every player on the 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. This should run us up to the start of the season, at least as it is scheduled now. We will go through the roster in alphabetical order. For the most part, these will run Monday through Friday every week running up to the week before Opening Day, though expect some weekend posts mixed in as well as the 40-man is expected to continue to be altered before the start of the season. You can catch up with every post by following this link. Today we take a look at Ronaldo Hernández.
One Big Question: Can Ronaldo Hernández refine his approach?
One thing that I have been impressed early in the Chaim Bloom era his ability to take seemingly expendable, not-quite-fringe-but-kind-of-fringe players and turn them into legitimate depth for the farm system. It goes without saying that it obviously takes time to truly evaluate how these kinds of trades work out, but in terms of present-day value he has seemingly gotten outsized return for what he’s given up. With these kinds of deals I’m referring to the Mitch Moreland trade, as well the deal with Philly over the summer that sent Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to the NL East. They didn’t get top prospects back, but they got solid, 15-20ish range prospects for their farm. That’s a good return!
Perhaps the most impressive version of this kind of trade was earlier this month when the Red Sox sent Chris Mazza and Jeffrey Springs, two recently DFA’d pitchers, to Tampa in exchange for a pair of prospects. The crown jewel of that return was Ronaldo Hernández. Now, the new top catching prospect in the organization has his flaws, which we’ll get to, but he was also, per Baseball America, the number 13 prospect in Tampa’s number one rated farm system. Now, these rankings are not gospel, and particularly after a season with no minor-league action, but it’s telling. The talent is there for Hernández.
With that said, there are the aforementioned flaws, and this is the year to really make some headway on making the requisite improvements on that front. Some of those flaws are defensively, where Hernández has a strong arm but the subtler aspects of catching like pitch framing and blocking, as well as calling games, need work. I want to focus on the offense, though.
Because of those shortcomings defensively, Hernández projects as a bat-first catcher, and in an era where catcher defense matters above all else — a possible introduction of robo umps could alter that perception, but at that point that discussion is still theoretical — he needs to maximize the bat for his defensive deficiencies to be overlooked. And the tools are there for that to happen. In terms of raw power, it is there. If Hernández were to tap into his power close to the maximum potential, he’s a 25-ish homer player. There is a bit of an issue with him being pull happy — Baseball America points out that all of his professional home runs were to the pull side — but that’s less of an issue for a right-handed hitter at Fenway.
The issue is that raw power can only be maximized when the hit tool allows it. Looking at Hernández’s numbers from the minors, it’s not readily apparent he has hit tool issues. Typically, that is associated with swing and miss, and he has maintained a strikeout rate around 15 percent on a consistent basis. That’s good! And he does have strong bat-to-ball skills. The issue is that his approach leaves a lot to be desired. (There’s a discussion to be had about making approach a separate tool from hitting and bat-to-ball ability, but we’ll save that for another day.)
Hernández is not very selective, which is reflected in his low walk rates, and while he does a good job of making contact on bad pitches, it’s hard to drive those bad pitches. That puts a strain on his power potential, and while he’s been able to put up good batting averages on balls in play in the lower levels with this approach it’s hard to see that being as consistent as he moves up the ladder and defenses get more stout. To this point he has yet to play above High-A.
And so that’s going to be the challenge for the newest Red Sox prospect and the coaching staff looking forward to the upcoming season. Hernández is on the 40-man roster — Tampa added him prior to last season in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft — but I wouldn’t expect the organization to look at him as major-league depth to start the year. I’d expect him to go to Portland and take some time to work on his approach and his recognition of bad pitches, particularly those with spin. To give the Red Sox credit here, they have been good in the past of getting the most out of position players in their organization. In this case, as counter-intuitive as it may be, the solution may be preaching that a few more strikeouts are okay if it means you’re letting a few more pitches go by to wait for one you can drive.
We are not yet at the point where we can really evaluate Chaim Bloom one way or the other. This recent trade for Hernández is a good example. The potential is there for him to be a good bat-first catcher, but he has work to do. Bloom did his part getting the player in the organization. Now it’s on Hernández and the player development staff to make the front office look smart and make the proper adjustments to refine that approach, find better pitches to drive, and really tap into that power potential.