Astros' Hernandez Striving For Consistency

HOUSTON—Some have it, most don't.

Enrique Hernandez has it.

The pop that reveals true, hard contact when a bat stings a baseball can instantly signal potential. Hernandez has pop. The 21-year-old second baseman hit .320/.379/.469 in 147 at-bats this winter in the Puerto Rican League, collecting 47 hits and 69 total bases.

As a teammate of Astros prospect Carlos Correa and Houston big league catcher Carlos Corporan, Hernandez was Carolina's most consistent line-drive hitter. Batting practice sessions saw balls fly low and straight as soon as they left his bat, and Hernandez rose from a utility player to Carolina's everyday second baseman and top-of-the lineup hitter as the season unfolded.

"He's had a really good winter league," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Hernandez divided time in 2012 between high Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi, hitting a combined .270/.314/.399 with six home runs and 52 RBIs in 499 at-bats. A sixth-round pick in 2009, Hernandez had a quiet start to his career and isn't projected to be a power-hitting infielder. He possesses a clean stroke, though, and is a solid defender. After gradually moving up through the system, the Puerto Rico-born Hernandez appears to be on track for a major league shot at the same time Houston's key prospects start to crack the majors.

"I've been doing really good hitting and that's what I'm trying to work on—being a little more consistent," Hernandez said. "Because that's what being in the big leagues is all about: consistency."

All-star Jose Altuve has the Astros' second-base job locked down heading into the 2013 season and his young career appears to be years away from peaking. But Houston's depth chart is thin after Altuve, and Hernandez could soon move upward if his pop continues.

"He's a really good hitter and makes great contact," said Carolina manager Edwin Rodriguez, the former Marlins manager who guided the Indians high Class A affiliate in 2012. "You try and find a way to get him in the lineup because he hits the ball so hard."

Space Shots

• While the Astros are likely to offer a couple of major league spring training invitations, their 40-man roster is basically set heading into the exhibition season.

• At least five pitchers are expected to compete for the final two starting spots in the major league rotation. Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles are the only starters locked in, and Norris—who's entering arbitration for the first time—remains a trade candidate.