The track record isn’t great, but Whit Merrifield gives me hope for Elier Hernandez

Elier Hernandez is a prospect that I’ve always kept my eye on despite the fact that he’s consistently under performed. Hernandez was a signing bonus baby for the Royals back in 2011 when he inked a $3.05M signing bonus out of the Dominican Republic. At the time, this was only $100,000 away from being the biggest signing bonus ever for a Latin American hitter.

Hernandez’ signing bonus and ensuing struggles at the plate have been well documented. Despite undeniably noticeable athleticism, Hernandez just has not been able to translate raw athleticism to success at the plate.

I’ve done a few of these comparisons in the past, here are the links:

Before we dive into Elier Hernandez, I want to explain why I spend time looking this stuff up. The best way that human beings can attribute value to an asset is to look at the past. Going to buy a car? Kelly Blue Book will tell you about every single car similar to yours that was sold in the surrounding area. Buying a house? Your realtor will tell you about every house sold in the area since the beginning of time.

If there were 100 MLB players that posted similar numbers to Elier Hernandez, we could conclude that he has a decent chance of being an MLB player. If there are none, he has some work to do. There is never a guarantee, good or bad, it just helps to place a value on the prospect.

Let’s get to it then.

The two biggest issues that I have with Elier Hernandez’ game at the moment are his plate discipline and his “launch angle”. So I broke down a list of players in the Texas League with similar statistics to Hernandez to see if there were any similar players having big league success. Here are the stats and requirements that I used to draw a sample of players, with Hernandez’ stats in parenthesis:

  • Age: 22-24 (Hernandez was 23 last year)
  • 250+ PA (381)
  • Played in Texas League (AA) between 2012 and 2018
  • ISO between .060 and .120 (.093)
  • BB% between 2% and 6.5% (3.7%)
  • K% between 13.8% and 20% (18.6%)
  • BABIP .307+ (.347)
  • wRC+ 90+ (92)
  • SwStr% 9%+ (12.4%)
  • HR < 10 (3)
  • 2B between 15 and 25 (22)

So there ya go. A mixed bag of plate discipline, attacking the baseball, and results. Here is the list of players to fall into these categories with Elier:

  • Kyle Overstreet (not good)
  • Elier Hernandez
  • Jose Rondon (6 HR in 42 G for CHW in 2018)
  • Whit Merrifield (HEY!)
  • Tyler Massey (not good)
  • Angelys Nina (not good)
  • Brian Humphries (not good)
  • Teodoro Martinez (not good)

This is a, uhh, not good list. Out of the 8 players on this list, you have 1 player that made his MLB debut this year and did pretty good, WHIT MERRIFIELD, and 5 guys who never made the big leagues. What does this tell us about Elier Hernandez’ chances of being an effective big league player as it stands right now? He’s going to have to make Whit Merrifield-like changes to his approach at the plate.

Part of the transformation of Whit Merrifield has to do with his approach at the plate, namely, HITTING THE BALL IN THE AIR. You may not be surprised to learn that Whit Merrifield has hit fewer and fewer ground balls as his major league career goes on, and he’s also gotten more and more productive at the plate. Read this article.

Over the past couple of seasons at AA, Elier Hernandez has hit the ball on the ground roughly 48% of the time. That is an insanely high number for a guy that stands 6′ 3″ 197′. From what I can tell, Hernandez does not have a problem hitting the baseball hard (minor league hard hit rates are not available to the public). He just needs to hit it in the air far more frequently.

Here’s the good news: Whit Merrifield’s ground ball rate during his second stint at AA was 46.3%. Much like Elier Hernandez, Whit was hitting WAY too many groundballs. Then he fixed the problem. Starting in 2012, here’s a rolling look at Whit Merrifield’s GB%:

  • 2012, A+: 44.9%
  • 2012, AA: 44.9%
  • 2013, AA: 46.3%
  • 2014, AA: 39.7%
  • 2014, AAA: 43%
  • 2015, AAA: 45.2%
  • 2016, AAA: 39.4%
  • 2016, MLB: 44.7%
  • 2017, AAA: 17.2%
  • 2017, MLB: 37.7%
  • 2018, MLB: 34.9%

It shouldn’t be hard to figure out which of those seasons were Merrifield’s best. Here’s some better news for Hernandez: Whit Merrifield, after making a point to put on weight/muscle, stands 6′ 195′. Elier Hernandez is already bigger at 23 than Merrifield at 29. He doesn’t have to rededicate himself in the weight room. He’s a big kid with eye popping tools. He just needs to (drastically) change his approach at the plate.

I probably made that sound like it’s an easy fix. It is not. Changing your approach at the plate, after seven seasons in the minor leagues, is anything but “easy”. The changes that Whit Merrifield made to his game propelled him from a non-prospect to a top 25 position player in baseball in the span of four seasons. Those are incredible changes. Whit Merrifield’s story is remarkable, but for the sake of Elier Hernandez, at least we know that it is possible.

The overall track record for players like Elier Hernandez may not be good (putting it lightly), but he’s got a pretty good role model to look up to and follow, and they happen to be teammates.

 

Photo Credits: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

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