As a veteran fan of the international prospect circuit, you already know that most IFA deals are agreed upon well in advance of a new international signing period opening up. And thanks to a completely revamped process with hard caps on total bonus pools, teams are no longer forced into the penalty box for exceeding their limit in the previous period. (Or no longer permitted to go into the penalty box, depending on your philosophy.)
Combine all that knowledge with reports from trusted sources like Ben Badler (Baseball America) and Jesse Sanchez (MLB.com), and it’s pretty safe to say the Chicago Cubs will sign Cristian Hernandez when things open up on July 2nd. It’s not official. But it’s pretty safe to say. And that gets my very excited, because he’s one hell of a prospect.
Here’s a small part of our discussion, from when we first learned of his connection to the Cubs:
The first, Cristian Hernandez, is a 16-year shortstop out of the Dominican Republic. According to BA, the 6’1″ 165lb free agent has “big power, a fast bat and advanced swing mechanics from the right side.” With plus speed and a projected ability to stick at shortstop for the long term, Hernandez is considered by some to be the top overall prospect in this class (though there will be lots of re-rankings in the coming months, as these guys are very young).
It will be forever difficult to rank 16 and 17-year old prospects (especially ones who’ve never played ball stateside), but to the extent that you can rank them, Hernandez has been featured as one of the top prospects in his class at several stops along the way – at least, according to Ben Badler at Baseball America.
Jesse Sanchez now has ranked Hernandez as the fifth best prospect for the upcoming 2020-2021 international signing period – still high praise, but maybe a spot or two lower than Badler would have him? Though I’d argue that Sanchez’s actual notes on Hernandez are even more eye-popping than anything else we’ve yet read on the prospect:
At 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, the teenager resembles a young Alex Rodriguez and has a build similar to Manny Machado at the same age. His approach and abilities give him a chance to hit for a high batting average and he is expected to have plus power in the future. There’s a belief he could eventually develop into a .300 hitter who can slug 30 or more home runs a year. On defense, he shows plus arm potential with smooth hands and the ability to make plays in the hole and up the middle with equal proficiency. He consistently runs the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds. The Cubs are the favorite to sign the infielder.
First and foremost, I’d like to point out the difference in measureables, which immediately stands out. As you can see, MLB.com has Hernandez at a full inch and 10 lbs heavier than Baseball America, which I don’t believe is an error or accident. Hernandez is a teenager, still growing into his body, and the additional height and weight added from last August (when Badler published his report) to this April (when Sanchez added his comments) is both unsurprising *and* exciting. This kid is growing into his body/power and I think that’s an exceptionally good sign for his projected profile.
But now let’s drool about everything else.
If you’re able to ignore the pro comps, you’re a better person than I am. I know that sort of practice is often unreliable (at best), but when you’re talking about one of the top prospects on the world stage, it’s not completely unfair to reference other players of similar talent at that age. Even still, that doesn’t mean it’s common to see those “other players” listed as Alex freakin’ Rodriguez and Manny freakin’ Machado.
But starry-eyed blindness aside, we’re talking about a SHORTSTOP with “smooth hands” and “proficiency,” who also runs well … believed to be capable of both a .300 average and 30 home runs some time in the future. The likelihood of him reaching that ceiling is never great, but is also almost beside the point: very few prospects are even given a ceiling like that. And indeed, to the extent that he can grow into that power, the extra size he’s put on in the last year or so is a good sign.
So while I don’t want to count any chickens before they hatch – again, the Cubs have not actually signed him yet – it sure seems like the Cubs could be running into a very good, very exciting new prospect for the system. It’ll be a long time before we ever see Hernandez at Wrigley Field, if ever, but with a potential contraction of the Minor League teams affiliated with the Cubs, he could pop up on a full-season club even sooner than you usually see for international youngsters.