Is Rays catching prospect Oscar Hernandez the real deal?

By Robbie Knopf

In 2011, Oscar Hernandez put up numbers that you or I would be happy to put up in a video game. In fact, he delivered the greatest season in the history of the Venezuelan Summer League. His numbers were jaw-dropping. His slash line was beyond belief: .402/.503/.732. No, that is not a typo. He posted a 1.236 OPS in 69 games. And as evidenced by his outstanding slugging percentage and ISO (.330), he hit for a ton of power as well: 21 homers along with 14 doubles. But what do those numbers mean?

Let’s put those numbers into context. The VSL as a whole put up a .263/.354/.365 line, and the VSL Champion VSL Rays had a .277/.364/.415 line. Those aren’t too shabby at all, but Hernandez easily surpassed those. People have tried to minimize Hernandez’s numbers by saying that he was a right-handed hitter in a hitters park. The proportion of flyballs to the outfield that Hernandez hit out of the ballpark was absolutely insane: 40.4% compared to the league average of 8.1%- but also the team average of 16.3%! Hernandez was simply mashing. He was drilling the ball out of the park at a ridiculous rate. But it’s not like Hernandez was pure power at all. He drilled line drive after line drive, 30.8% of his batted balls compared to the league average and team average of 20.9%. He walked an outstanding rate, 12.6% of his plate appearances compared to the league average of 10.0%, without striking out very often at all, just 15.0% of his plate appearances compared to the league average of 14.5%. No matter how much you want to put Hernandez’s stats under a microscope, there’s no denying that he annihilated VSL pitching this past season.

Hernandez is a long way from the big leagues. He’ll likely start 2011 at Rookie-level Princeton, and even if he hits there like he did in Venezuela, the highest he would possibly get in 2012 would be Low-A. Hernandez is still just 18 years old. He has loads of talent. Will he be the Rays’ catcher of the future? Defensively, for what it’s worth, Hernandez posted just a .973 Fld%, although he did post a 42% CS%. It’s evident that Hernandez is very raw and he’s still a wild card at this point. But he showed in 2011 that he has incredible ability, and maybe he will be that superstar catcher that the Rays have never had in their history. A whole lot needs to happen before we decide about that. But Hernandez’s talent is real, and he’s a player you have to keep an eye on as he comes to America for the 2012 season.