Latin American Winter League baseball is a great place for young up-and-coming talents to prove to their American parent clubs that they can play competitive baseball on a high level. It also provides a chance for young players to get at bats during the off-season and improve their skills. Mets’ infield prospect, Anderson Hernandez used the Dominican Winter League to show the Mets the he indeed still has potential to become a bona fide hitter. Hernandez, a switch hitter, won the post-season batting crown after hitting .402 with one home run, 12 RBIs and 22 runs scored in 23 games with the Tigres del Licey. Despite this superb performance the question still remains: can Anderson Hernandez hit major league pitching?
Concerns have always been about Hernandez’s bat. Even when the Mets acquired him two years ago from the Detroit Tigers for Catcher Vance Wilson, just before José Reyes finally established in 2005 that he could remain healthy for a full season, Hernandez’s reputation had been based largely with his sparkling glove. However, in 2005, Hernandez raised eyebrows when he had an excellent season for the Mets AA team, the Binghamton Mets, hitting .326. Because José Reyes had finally established himself and remained healthy, the Mets were prompted to move him to second base, in deference to Reyes. Hernandez made an exceptionally smooth transition from short to second and was the opening day second baseman for the Amazin’s at the start of the 2006 season. Hernandez played some exceptional defense for the club in the early going, but he wasn’t hitting at all. After going more than twenty at bats without a hit, Hernandez finally broke through with a single. Unfortunately, in April, an injury made on a superb fielding play that saw Hernandez dive into the outfield, sidelined him for months. Luckily for the Mets, and not so lucky for Hernandez, Jose Valentín, who had rarely ever played second base, came in and played spectacularly. Valentín slugged 18 home runs, hit for a decent average, and what is more important played, the position as if he played it his whole entire life! Valentín’s surprising play was one of the key factors in the Mets winning their first division title in 18 years.
With Jose Valentín signed to a contract extension, questions remain as to what role Hernandez will play with the big club in 2007. Will Hernandez be sent to the minors again so he can get some at-bats? Will Hernandez stay with the club and play a utility role, or will he platoon with Valentín, who has difficulty hitting from the right side? These are all questions that may be answered this spring.
With his performance in the minors over the last few seasons and his stellar showing in the Dominican Winter League, Hernandez clearly has proven that he can hit AAA level pitching. However, the question still remains whether he can hit Major League pitching. Hernandez eventually resurfaced in 2006 and played some games in September for the parent club after spending most of the year in the minors, after recovering from his injury, and wound up hitting his first major league home run from the right side of the plate – his homer impressing and surprising Mets’ manager Willie Randolph. But, simply put, Hernandez’ hitting performance was still abysmal. When called up in 2005, Hernandez only had one hit in 18 at-bats. Then, in 2006, Hernandez only managed a .152 batting average in 66 at-bats. Clearly, Hernandez needs to prove that he can hit major league pitching on some level to be considered an every day player. If Hernandez can at least hit .250 or better and use that great speed he has, the Mets may have found their second baseman for the future.
Andrew Schiff is a free lance writer and has written a biography on baseball’s first journalist, the man who invented the game’s statistics, Henry Chadwick. Look out for Henry Chadwick: The Father of Baseball published by McFarland in late 2007.