After a torrid month of July, Red Sox catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez got his August off to a solid start for Double-A Portland on Sunday.
Though the Sea Dogs ultimately fell to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats by a final score of 7-6 at Hadlock Field, Hernandez certainly did his part to prevent that from happening.
Starting at designated hitter and batting out of the six-hole, the 23-year-old went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run and two runs scored on the afternoon.
The tw0-run homer, which came off Fisher Cats reliever Graham Spraker, was Hernandez’s 11th big fly of the year and it cut Portland’s deficit down to two runs at 7-5. Tanner Nishikoa followed with a solo shot of his own to make it a one-run game, but New Hampshire was ultimately able to hold and take the series finale in a close contest.
Hernandez’s two-hit outing raised his batting line on the season to a respectable .252/.296/.467 (103 wRC+) to go along with 12 doubles, 11 home runs, 25 RBI, 24 runs scored, eight strikeouts across 59 games (223 plate appearances) on the year.
The Red Sox originally acquired Hernandez — as well as infield prospect Nick Sogard — from the Rays back in February in exchange for relievers Chris Mazza and Jeffrey Springs as well as cash considerations.
Hernandez, who does not turn 24 until November, signed with Tampa Bay for $225,000 as an international free agent out of Colombia during the 2014 signing period.
After five years in the organization, the Rays added Hernandez to their 40-man roster in November 2019 in order to protect him from that winter’s Rule 5 Draft, though he did not play another game in their system after that (but spent time on the club’s taxi squad and postseason player pool) with the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since he was a member of Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster at the time of the four-player trade from this past February, Hernandez immediately joined Boston’s 40-man roster and received an invite to major-league spring training as a result.
The right-handed hitting backstop was optioned to the Sox’ alternate training site in early March and later began the 2021 minor-league campaign with Portland.
Through his first several weeks as a member of the Sea Dogs, Hernandez — for the most part struggled — as he hit just .210/.248/.384 (67 wRC+) over 138 trips to the plate from the beginning of May until the end of June.
As soon as the calendar flipped to July, however, Hernandez seemed to turn a corner offensively, and it started with a three-hit performance against the Fisher Cats in Manchester on July 4.
Over the next four weeks, Hernandez simply lit it up at the plate. In five games between the Reading Fightin Phils from July 13-18, he amassed a total of eight hits while boasting an OPS of 1.318 thanks to putting together three multi-hit outings.
By the time the month of July came to a close over the weekend, not only had Hernandez not been traded, but he also posted a stellar .324/.378/.588 slash line (158 wRC+) in addition to clubbing four homers, driving in 13 runs, and scoring 11 of his own over his last 22 games and 68 plate appearances dating back to July 1.
Among Double-A Northeast catchers with at least 50 at-bats over the course of July, Hernandez ranked first in batting average, first in on-base percentage, first in slugging percentage, first in OPS, tied-first in hits (22), second in doubles (6), tied-second in home runs, and second in RBI.
On the other side of the ball, it appears as though Hernandez still has room to develop when it comes to what he does defensively. So far this season, the 6-foot-1, 237 pound backstop has committed six errors while allowing 10 passed balls to elude him while behind the plate. He has also thrown out 13 of 49 (26.5%) runners attempting to steal off him.
Per his Baseball America scouting report, “Hernandez has a plus arm behind the plate and moves well for a big catcher, but his receiving is fringe-average and needs to continue to improve.”
Regarded by Baseball America as the No. 13 prospect in Boston’s farm system — which ranks tops among catchers in the system, Hernandez is currently one of four backstops on the Sox’ 40-man roster alongside veterans like Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki and fellow prospect Connor Wong.
Given his standing on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster, one has to wonder if Hernandez could be in line for a promotion to Triple-A Worcester before season’s end if he continues to produce at a consistent level.
Not only would promoting Hernandez to the WooSox give the Red Sox a chance to evaluate how the young backstop adjusts to a new level of competition and new pitching staff, it would also grant them the opportunity to see if Hernandez is worthy of his 40-man spot, or if it would be better suited for another prospect in need of protection from December’s Rule 5 Draft.
(Picture of Ronaldo Hernandez: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)