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It seems like an eternity ago, but in reality it was only last October when Andrew Friedman left the Rays to become President of Baseball Operations for the Dodgers. Shortly thereafter, Joe Maddon followed him out of town by exercising the out clause given to him by Friedman and company. Almost immediately, the race figured to be on in implementing various portions of their model of success used with the Rays at their new places of business.

One non-pitching aspect of “The Rays Way” seemingly placed significant value on positional versatility defensively. Since Friedman and Maddon joined forces in 2006, the Rays have deployed a plethora of super-utilitymen throughout their tenure: Ty Wigginton received at least five starts at five different positions in the duo’s inaugural campaign together, and Willy Aybar received starts at four different positions over his 95 games of action during the team’s World Series run in 2008 and started at least 18 games at three positions over the following season. Over the final four years of Maddon and Friedman’s tenure in Tampa, their love of flexibility extended even further, giving Sean Rodriguez starts at seven different positions (in addition to four at designated hitter) in his first year with the Rays in 2010 and doing much of the same with Rodriguez until he signed with the Pirates last winter. Jeff Keppinger received at least 27 starts at three infield positions in 2012 and Kelly Johnson was dispatched at four different positions across the diamond in 2013, earning the starting nod in excess of 16 times at three spots. In Maddon’s final season at the helm last year, he started virtually everybody at multiple positions over the course of the year, giving three players (Logan Forsythe, Sean Rodriguez, and the ultimate Swiss-army knife, Ben Zobrist) multiple starts at four different positions in addition to Friedman’s trade deadline acquisition of Nick Franklin, who appeared at four spots in Seattle before coming to Tampa Bay as part of their haul for David Price.

Both Maddon and Friedman’s love for positional versatility is quite obviously well known at this point, and the success they experienced with Zobrist while in Tampa was widely seen as part of the blueprint that they would likely look to replicate in their new homes. It seemed very probable that either club would choose to trade for the actual Zobrist over the winter, but Friedman’s replacement, Matthew Silverman, ultimately dealt him to another organization with a positional-flexibility fetish, the Oakland A’s, on January 10th.

At first glance, the Dodgers appeared to have several in-house options to recreate the Zobrist experience when Friedman came on the scene, including Justin Turner—who started in multiple contests at four positions in 2014—but Turner’s limited outfield experience (which consisted of one inning in left field with the Mets in 2013) rendered him a less-than-ideal candidate. Infielder/outfielder Scott Van Slyke, who received double-digit starting assignments at four positions in 2014, was also not viewed as a realistic option due to his lack of versatility in the infield and his struggles against right-handed pitching.

Chicago’s options for a Zobrist lite over the winter presumably included Arismendy Alcantara, who started 21 times in the infield and 48 times in the outfield last season, or the possibility of moving an infield prospect from their impressive cache—such as Javier Baez or Kris Bryant—into a multi-position role. A reunion with Emilio Bonifacio was also mentioned as a possibility over the winter. The Cubs ultimately decided to enter the year with their in-house options and banished Alcantara to the minors for the rest of the season after 32 plate appearances (and a .303 OPS) in April. They later decided to move Chris Coghlan around the field in a platoon role, giving him 99 starts in left field, along with 20 starts in right field and 15 at second base. Coghlan (.279 TAv) performed a notch below Zobrist (.298 TAv) offensively this season but ended up being a better fantasy option based on his career-high 11 stolen bases. On the other hand, his inability to hit left-handed pitching (career .629 OPS) doesn’t make him an ideal Zobrist lite candidate in the future. Likely National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant (and his 80-grade eyes) received seven or more appearances at four positions this season, but his future role is almost assuredly not going to be of the super-utility variety.

Buried beneath Friedman’s trade last December that saw Andrew Heaney, Austin Barnes, and Chris Hatcher head to the Dodgers—and Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, and a boatload of money go to the Marlins—was a possible answer to Friedman’s quest: Enrique Hernandez.

Hernandez hit for a .672 OPS along with 13 home runs (.140 isolated power) and five stolen bases as a 21-year-old in the Texas League in 2013, primarily appearing as a second baseman. He was perhaps victimized by a below-average .253 BABIP (his lowest non-rehab minor-league number to date) and his seven percent walk rate and sub-15 percent strikeout rate showed that he wasn’t overwhelmed by Double-A pitching. After 43 plate appearances in which Hernandez hit .325/.372/.475 in the Texas League to start the 2014 season, the Astros quickly moved him up to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where his bat flourished among the various bandboxes of the Pacific Coast League. Hernandez compiled a .337/.380/.508 line over his first 289 plate appearances at the level, chipping in 27 extra-base hits (eight home runs) along with six steals in 11 attempts, good for a 129 wRC+. For the first-time in his minor-league career, he began to move around all over the diamond defensively, appearing at every position except for pitcher and catcher over his 67 games played.

Hernandez’s good work in Oklahoma City earned him a promotion to the Astros on July 1st of last season. He started 23 games for the Astros over the course of the month, more than holding his own with the bat with a .284/.348/.420 slash in 89 plate appearances. The Marlins acquired Hernandez from the Astros at the July trade deadline as part of what’s currently referred to as the “Jarred Cosart deal”—and may end up being referred to as the “Francis Martes deal.” After four games and a whopping seven plate appearances in August, the Marlins sent Hernandez back to Triple-A, where he received 84 plate appearances and hit two home runs with a .748 OPS, and stayed put until the rosters expanded in September. Upon his recall, Hernandez hit for a .831 OPS, slugging two home runs in 38 plate appearances to close the year. Add it all up, and over the course of his age-22 season, Hernandez hit .319/.372/.484 in with 11 home runs in 98 minor league games and .248/.321/.421 with three home runs in 42 major league games, good for a 110 wRC+ overall.

2015 Rookies by wRC+, minimum 200 plate appearances

Rank

Player

Age

PA

wRC+

1

Miguel Sano

22

335

151

2

Randal Grichuk

23

350

137

3

Kris Bryant

23

650

136

4

Devon Travis

24

238

135

5

Stephen Piscotty

24

256

133

6

Carlos Correa

20

432

133

7

Enrique Hernandez

23

218

132

8

Kyle Schwarber

22

273

132

9

Jung-Ho Kang

28

467

130

10

Francisco Lindor

21

438

128

In the year of the rookie, anytime you’re sandwiched on an offensive list between Carlos Correa and Kyle Schwarber, that’s a pretty good thing. Obviously, a sample of more than 218 plate appearances would be ideal, but this illustrates that Hernandez was extremely productive while healthy this season. The Dodgers gave Hernandez eight starts prior to June, at which time Don Mattingly began inserting him into the lineup more frequently, giving him an opportunity primarily against left-handed pitching. In 13 June starts (18 appearances), spanning 55 plate appearances, Hernandez batted .260, hit two home runs, and posted a .769 OPS. Over the course of the month, he started games in center field, left field, shortstop, and second base. Mattingly continued to move Hernandez around the diamond in July, but only gave him seven starts. He made the most of them, hitting .379/.406/.552 in 32 plate appearances, which—combined with the continued struggles of Joc Pederson and the creakiness of several Dodger veterans—helped Hernandez force his way into Mattingly’s lineup more frequently in August.

Howie Kendrick’s injured hamstring in early August also helped lead to extended playing time for Hernandez, and he certainly enjoyed the regular at-bats, clubbing three home runs in his 19 starts, and mashing his way to a .927 OPS in a season-high 74 plate appearances, appearing at every non-battery position on the field defensively besides first base and right field. Just as Hernandez was heating up with the bat, a left hamstring strain sent him to the disabled list on the last day of August, causing him to miss almost the entire month of September; he appeared in two games at the end of the month before playing in three regular-season games in October.

Quite obviously, Hernandez needs to prove himself in a larger sample size and needs to show that he can hit right-handed major-league pitching at a better rate that he did this season (.234/.262/.331 in 131 plate appearances), but overall there is a lot to like here from a fantasy standpoint. Hernandez hit right-handers (.945 OPS in 187 at-bats) at a much better clip than lefties (.747 OPS in 77 at-bats) while at Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2014, but hit worse against them at Double-A in 2013, making it an area that he needs to improve upon to avoid being strictly a platoon option. His versatility makes him extremely valuable in NL-only leagues and deeper leagues, and in addition to his wRC+ total finishing seventh among all rookies this season, his .490 slugging percentage was good for eighth (min. 200 plate appearances). It’s not hard to imagine multiple scenarios where Hernandez plays enough to secure 400-500 at-bats (even primarily as a platoon option), starting when the left-handed-hitting Joc Pederson, Andre Ethier, and Corey Seager need to be spotted.

Hernandez could garner eligibility at as many as six defensive positions next season, and if he hits like he did as a rookie this season, Andrew Friedman (along with fantasy owners) may have found the next Zorilla.

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jkaflagg
10/08
Still wonder why Miami supposedly insisted on the inclusion of Hernandez in the Cosart (Martes) deal and then threw him into the Gordon deal so easily....Hard to believe he was that awful in his short stint in Florida. Miami obviously moves on quickly from players who do not meet their expectations quickly (witness Colin Moran's inclusion in the Cosart deal just a year after being drafted) and sometimes they may be right, but.....seems that it might be tough to maintain a good development pipeline if they give up on guys so quickly.