Astros Prospect Profile: Kikè Hernandez

This is from a great post over at 'Cats Corner, but was too good not to use here. Kikè looks like a fun guy, doesn't he?

There are roughly 180 to 190 players in the Astros minor league system at any given time (not counting guys in the Dominican Summer League or the Dominican Prospect League). That's a lot of players to sift through, looking for hidden gems. If you're reading through box scores every day, like the tireless Subber10 does, you start to develop emotions about players you've never even seen. It may be an article you found by chance on a guy, or it could be his stat line in August.

Whatever the case, you start to develop favorites for no particular reason. That's what happened with me and Enrique "Kikè" Hernandez last year. I wasn't very impressed with him coming out of the draft. He was an athletic guy, but looked challenged at short and I figured he'd need lots of development time. In short, he wasn't helping Houston any time soon and I didn't have a lot of patience for players like that (read: I also didn't like Jay Austin last year...sorry, Jay).

For some reason, though, Kikè started sticking out in those GCL box scores. I noticed him more and more often. Then, when the guys over at 'Cats Corners started talking him up and dropped the bomb that is his nickname (quite possibly topping "Bubby" as the most fun to say in the minor leagues), I really got behind him and knew a prospect profile was brewing. Here's the result. Thanks to Kevin Whitaker of the ValleyCats for his valuable assistance!

Summary

In 2009, the Astros drafted a young middle infielder out of Puerto Rico in the sixth round. Here's what I said about him from the scouting video I watched last year.

6) Enrique Hernandez (SS, American Military Academy HS, 5-11, 170, 17) Notes: This is a kid who may mature to be more than he is now, but at the moment, he's a project. At short, his arm looked strained and his footwork needs work. At the plate, his swing is choppy but quick. In the at-bats we got to see, he looked like he needed to work on his plate discipline. Baseball America compared him to Luis Matos but with a better bat, and listed him as a second baseman. With his arm strength, that's probably where he'll end up in the long term.

Hernandez, who prefers to go by Kikè, signed quickly and went to the Gulf Coast League in his first professional season. He was one of the most consistent hitters on the GCL Astros, putting up a .295/.336/.396 slash line and carrying one of the highest batting averages on the team.

Hernandez was bumped up to Tri-City after spending time in extended spring training in 2010. He's started at second base for the ValleyCats and recently came up with a walk-off home run to keep Tri-City's slim playoff chances alive. He's batting .292/.326/.403 in 216 at-bats right now and his BABiP of .322 shows he could easily sustain his batting average. He's fourth in the New York/Penn League in doubles with 16 and is seventh in the league in hits.

Defensively, Hernandez has only committed seven errors in 51 after switching to second base last season. He's also been successful on all three of his stolen base attempts and has struck out in just 14 percent of his plate appearances.

Ceiling

Hernandez looks like a solid addition to the Astros sudden glut of second base prospects. He's got average speed on the base paths, but has an above-average ability to make contact. When he was named Tri-City's Offensive Player of the Month for July, he did it by reducing his ground ball rate and hitting a few more fly balls. That resulted in 11 doubles in 110 at-bats.

Hernandez is also accomplishing this at a very young age. He'll be 19 in a five days and is competing against guys who are three or four years older than him in most cases. While he hasn't shown much power (his walk-off homer was wind-aided and just cleared the fence, according to the excellent Kevin Whitaker), Hernandez definitely has time to develop more muscle. Ultimately, though, he's going to be a doubles hitter who has a pretty nice glove.

At his absolute best, he could be a 10-12 home run guy with a solid glove at second base. Does that remind you of anyone (cough*Kepp*cough)? I think Jeff Keppinger is probably a pretty reasonable comparable, though as I'll mention below, Hernandez probably doesn't have the defensive chops to play on the left side.

Floor

I emailed the good Mr. Whitaker for an eyes-on account of Herandez and here's some snippets of what he wrote:

His biggest problem is the lack of an arm - he's not going to play on the left side of the infield, so he'll have to make it as a straight 2B (no way his bat comes close to carrying LF/1B).  So there's less room for error...he doesn't have utility-player skills and will therefore find it harder to stick on a big-league roster.

His defense will definitely limit him going forward. Unlike Keppinger or Edwin Maysonet, Hernandez is already being relegated to second base because of concerns about his arm strength. His range is also good but not great, due in part because of his average speed. He's still adjusting to the position, too. Whitaker mentioned being concerned about his ability to go to his left, but just last week, Hernandez made a great diving play that way which changed Whitaker's opinion.

The other problem will be his bat. Players who don't walk much are always at a disadvantage moving up through the system. Hernandez hasn't shown much of a propensity towards being patient, which shows both in his walk and strikeout rates. If he doesn't develop power or more of an ability to get on base...

 The scout I've talked to pegs him as a AAAA guy - i.e., he'll get time in the bigs at 2B for teams in dire need of a player, but doesn't bring enough to really stick with a team for years in the lineup or on the bench

ETA To The Majors

One of the biggest reasons to like Hernandez is that he's apparently got one of those infectious personalities. Everything I've read about him so far has been positive. Did you see those pictures of his walk-off? Those were some guys having fun. Thinking about that in the context of Morgan Ensberg's recent post over at his blog was also interesting. Guys like Kikè help teams win, even if they're not always being productive on the field. There's something to be said about chemistry and I bet Hernandez gets a chance to move up because of his intangibles.

Other than that, it'll be a hard road between now and the show. Hernandez is probably fifth on the Astros minor league depth chart at second base, behind Albert Cartwright, Jose Altuve, Jimmy Paredes and DDJ and just ahead of Jose Vallejo and Austin Wates (if he indeed moves to second). That means he's going to have a long, slow climb up the system to earn playing time in the majors. If he does make it, look for him somewhere around 2014 or 2015.

Where Will He Go In 2011?

There are a ton of new second basemen in the system. I could see Hernandez moving up to Lancaster and splitting time with Jimmy Paredes. That move would be pretty aggressive for the youngster, though. The more likely scenario is that Austin Wates goes to Lancaster with Paredes as he learns the position and Hernandez splits time with DDJ in Lexington.

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