When Cesar Hernandez was called up at the beginning of September, I honestly don't think that anyone had any expectations or allusions as to what was to come from the 23-year-old infielder. After a brief stint with the Phillies earlier this year, where he hit .250 with a double in nine games, Hernandez was sent back down to AAA Lehigh Valley, where he would continue to ply his trade until he was once again called on to fill out the roster after there was an injury to a starter.
That's not to suggest that Hernandez isn't a good enough player to warrant getting called up based on merit, but if his lot in life was to be a perpetual bench player slash defensive replacement, no one would really be surprised. After all, a hitter with a .739 OPS and very little power in the minor leagues doesn't have a promising career as a Major Leaguer.
However, Hernadez's fortune may have changed a bit when the Phillies asked him to transition from the infield – where he has spent the bulk of his career – to center field. This was a move of necessity, as the Phillies found themselves without a suitable backup to Ben Revere. Although John Mayberry has proven he can play the position with enough competence, the Phillies are not likely going to offer him a contract at the end of the season. Enter Hernadez, whose only experience in center was back in 2007, when he was a 17-year-old playing in the Venezuelan Summer League.
Hernandez moved to center following his demotion in June, and for all intents and purposes, has flourished in his new role. He is still learning the position, but in watching him in person, and on television, he clearly has a sense for how to cover the outfield. He gets good breaks on balls, has enough foot speed to chase them down, and most importantly, he looks to be very comfortable. If you didn't know Hernandez was an infielder two months ago, you might think he's been playing the outfield his whole life.
What at first was an experiment has in fact turned out to be a viable option in center, and thanks to a .329/.398/.380 line in 88 games, Hernandez might just have played himself into a role on the big club next season. While it would take a lot to unseat Ben Revere from the everyday lineup, Hernandez has proved to be a solid enough defender and hitter (albeit thanks to a heaping spoonful of luck). Of course, we are still in very small sample size territory, but that doesn't take anything away from Hernandez's success this season as he transitioned to a new position.
While Hernandez is unlikely to start next season, it's quite likely that he will continue to get looks in the outfield for the final two weeks of the season, as well as during the off-season and in Spring Training. If he can continue to develop as an outfielder, that makes him a very valuable backup utility player in 2014.