In case you missed it, the Red Sox acquired catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez and infield prospect Nick Sogard from the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday morning in exchange for left-hander Jeffrey Springs and right-hander Chris Mazza, as well as $100,000 in cash considerations.
Among the two minor-leaguers Boston received in this deal, Hernandez is without a doubt the most highly-touted.
The 23-year-old was originally signed by the Rays out of Colombia for $225,000 in 2014 and worked his way up to earning a spot on the club’s 40-man roster in November 2019 to avoid being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.
Despite not getting to experience a minor-league season last year on account of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hernandez did spend the entirety of the major-league season at the Rays’ alternate training site, so it is not like 2020 was a complete wash for him.
Having said that, the 6-foot-3, 23o pounder saw his offensive production decline the last time he took the field for organized minor-league action in 2019.
Compared to his 2018 slash line of .284/.339/.494 to go along with 21 home runs and 79 RBI over 109 games with Class-A Bowling Green, Hernandez posted a .265/.299/.397 slash while clubbing just nine homers and driving in 60 runs in 103 games with High-A Charlotte two years ago.
He did bounce back by producing an .894 OPS over 42 plate appearances in the Arizona Fall League after the season ended, but there still might be some lingering concerns there.
On the other side of the ball, Hernandez has thrown out 120 of the 288 (42%) of the base runners that attempted to steal against him over the course of his four-year professional career. He is also averaging more than 13 passed balls per season over that span.
Taking what he does offensively and defensively into consideration, here is a sampling of scouting reports from 2020 on Hernandez from various baseball outlets.
“If you just look at raw tools, Hernandez compares to Gary Sánchez and is not only a potential everyday catcher but one who might have real impact. He has big raw power and run-stopping, plus-plus arm strength, but his approach is bad (which might impede the power), and his swing only generates power in certain parts of the zone. He loads his hands very high and deep and then cuts down through the typical hitting zone, which causes Hernandez’s power to come toward the top of the zone and out in front when his swing starts to lift, making his point of impact of paramount importance to his power production… His defensive ability, specifically the receiving, might still be a problem and is part of why Kevan Smith was ahead of him on last year’s depth chart. He’s still a high-variance prospect with some flaws that may be exploited in a significant way at the big league level, but Hernandez has a shot to be an everyday player due to his power.”
“Hernández has a pair of plus tools in his raw power and arm strength, but he’s still learning the nuances of the game and seeking consistency on both sides of the ball. Big and strong, he makes hard contact with strength-driven bat speed and shows feel for finding the barrel thanks to good hand-eye coordination. That Hernández’s power plays almost entirely to his pull side during games speaks to his aggressive approach and leads some scouts to question his overall hitting ability. While he doesn’t strike out much, Hernández does chase contact too often and will need to adopt a more selective approach as he works his way through the Minors.
“A rocket, 70-grade arm and solid catch-and-throw skills help Hernández control the running game, and he’s thrown out 36 and 39 percent of base stealers, respectively, in his first two full-season campaigns. He’s improved as a receiver but still has a way to go to become average, and the same goes for Hernández’s blocking skills. Improving his body and conditioning should help with the latter, and the Rays expect some gains to occur naturally as Hernández gains much-needed experience behind the plate. If it all clicks for him, Hernández could develop into an average defensive catcher who hits for enough power to compensate for his lack of average and receiving issues.”
“Hernandez’s 2018 breakout season with low Class A Bowling Green has started to fade into the background, but his trade in a swap for a designated for assignment player is still a surprisingly low return for a catcher with significant power potential. Hernandez was not a particularly good fit in a Rays organization that emphasizes receiving ability far above offensive contributions from its catchers.
“Hernandez struggles as a future fringe-average receiver and will have to improve in this facet of the game to earn an everyday role in the majors. His power comes from a very pull-heavy approach that may be exploited by more advanced pitchers. That said, Hernandez has plus power and a plus arm and he’s only 23, so he has a chance to refine some of his current issues. He’s a very useful addition to the Red Sox farm system as a catcher to develop. And if MLB eventually goes to computerized ball-strike calls, his biggest liabilities will largely diminish. Hernandez had to be added to the 40-man roster before the 2020 season and has used one option. He will head into 2021 having not played above high Class A.”
Hernandez was regarded by Baseball America as the Rays’ No. 13 prospect headed into the 2020 season.
According to SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield, the young backstop will likely rank somewhere between No. 11 and No. 2o in regards to the site’s ranking of the Red Sox’ top prospects.
That in turn, would make Hernandez one of, if not the top catching prospect in Boston’s farm system, as noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.
On the subject of Red Sox minor-league catchers, Hernandez will join a position group that includes the likes of Connor Wong (also on the 40-man), Jhonny Pereda, Roldani Baldwin, Kole Cottam, Chris Hermann, Jhonny Pereda, and Austin Rei at major-league camp the onset of spring training.
It’s already been said, but in a matter of 12-plus months, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have seemingly transformed the organization’s catching depth from an area of weakness to an area of strength. Not too shabby.
(Picture of Ronaldo Hernandez: Eric Espada/Getty Images)