Few players have come farther in 2016 than Teoscar Hernandez.
A year ago, Hernandez hit .219/.275/.362 with Double-A Corpus Christi. His extremely disappointing season was even more discouraging because he had hit .284/.299/.474 in a late-season callup to the Hooks in 2014.
Understandably, the Astros left Hernandez unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft. They were gambling that no one would take a chance on a player who couldn’t hit in Double-A, even if he had plus speed, a plus arm, plus raw power and at least average defense in center field. The gamble paid off as Hernandez went unpicked in the Rule 5 draft. He’s responded with an outstanding 2016 season, hitting .305/.384/.437 in Double-A and .313/.365/.500 after a promotion to Triple-A Fresno.
In 2015, Hernandez lost his confidence at the plate and went into a spiral of bad swings and inopportune guessing. He showed very little pitch recognition and became an easy out for pitchers who could locate a breaking ball.
This year, he regained his confidence and significantly improved his pitch recognition as he focused on making more contact. Hernandez’s control of the strike zone has improved dramatically–he’s nearly doubled his walk rate. And by doing so, he’s gotten himself into counts where his power potential comes into play as well. When he focuses on driving the ball, Hernandez has the potential to hit 15-20 home runs in a season, but by focusing more on power than contact, he has significantly improved his hit tool while losing only a little of the productive power he’s shown. That’s an excellent tradeoff as Hernandez is a plus runner who can steal bases and aggressively pick up an extra base on the basepaths on balls hit to the outfield.
Defensively Hernandez can play all three outfield spots. His plus arm fits in right field and his speed and range make him an above-average center fielder.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Astros’ outfield has been the main reason Houston has played below expectations this season. George Springer has played as expected but the trio of Jake Marisnick, Carlos Gomez and Colby Rasmus has fallen way short of projections. With Gomez now designated for assignment and Rasmus on the disabled list, Hernandez’s ability to play center field should earn him regular playing time. His speed/power combo is perfect for fantasy leagues, making him a surprise pickup that could pay off handsomely.
In the real world, Hernandez’s quick ascent from Double-A to the big leagues does carry some risk. He’s been overaggressive in the past, and if that resurfaces in his first taste of the big leagues, he will struggle. But his improved approach in 2016 gives him a chance to prove this August and September that he should be part of the Astros outfield mix in 2017 and beyond. It’s safe to say Hernandez, just added to the 40-man roster, won’t be available in this December’s Rule 5 draft.