In recent days, Teoscar Hernandez has been an awfully impressive presence in the Blue Jays lineup. He hit home runs in three consecutive games, took walks in his last two, and showed some eye-opening raw power when he took Sonny Gray 458 feet to centre field on Saturday.
For a team looking for the next wave of talent to reinforce an aging core, Hernandez’s strong play is a sight for sore eyes. The outfielder is particularly appealing because he has tools that look like they could develop further, but he’s also MLB-ready now – and could be a significant part of a 2018 squad looking to contend.
Those elements have started the Hernandez hype train hurtling down the tracks, but before it gets out of control there are a couple of important things not to lose sight of.
Foremost among those factors is Hernandez’s age. As it stands, the young outfielder is being billed as a toolsy player with untapped potential. That’s not an entirely unfair characterization, but it needs to be understood in the context of his age.
In 19 days, Hernandez will turn 25. That’s an age where most players are near their peak, if not at their pinnacle. For a frame of reference, Bryce Harper is one day younger than Hernandez, Mookie Betts is just eight days older, Xander Bogaerts is two weeks his elder. Those guys are exceptional talents, but being an established MLB player at 24 is far from unusual. This year, 86 players 24-or-younger have more plate appearances than Hernandez.
To describe him as an up-and-comer is fair, but he’s on the edge of prospect territory. Based on what we understand about aging curves it’s not reasonable to expect him to grow that much from the player he is today – which could be an issue because his game has some rough edges.
Hernandez’s biggest issue is going to be his ability to keep his strikeout rate in check. So far in the big leagues he’s gone down on strikes in 27.6 percent of his trips to the plate, and that number sits at 31.5 percent this year. Amidst all the accolades he’s received for his recent performances, he’s gone down on strikes 11 times in his last seven games.
These strikeout numbers are also backed by very poor contact numbers. Of the 470 hitters who’ve come to the plate this year, Hernandez’s contact rate of 70.5 percent ranks 405th. More troublingly for Hernandez, he’s had serious issues with swinging through pitches in the zone where his contact rate of 75 percent ranks 450th in the same group.
This weakness doesn’t appear to be a pure small-sample fluke from his 2017 cameo, either. In his time with the Astros last season he encountered the same problem with in-zone contact.
Even including last year, we are talking about less than 200 plate appearances, but in the context of contact statistics that’s not nothing. Plate discipline statistics get meaningful in a hurry, and it’s fair to say that Hernandez has some contact problems – especially in the top third of the zone.
He also seems unlikely to be able to offset them with a massive walk rate. Even with free passes in consecutive games, he’s at a 5.5 percent rate this year. He can likely do better than that as he has a minor-league average of 8.7 percent and big-league rate of 8.1 percent, but Joey Votto he’s not.
That high-strikeout and low-to-medium walk profile is far from crippling, but it is limiting to some degree. Hernandez is unlikely to be a big OBP guy – as his current .303 mark in the majors so far attests – and he doesn’t play a premium defensive position (regularly at least). As a result, he’ll need to hit for a lot of power or play his corner really, really well to be the type of valuable regular Blue Jays fans are starting to envision.
In recent days, Hernandez has shown the power is certainly there, but he’s never topped 23 round trippers in a year across all levels, and with home runs spiking across baseball it’s harder than ever to separate yourself with that tool.
From a defensive standpoint, the early returns on his metrics aren’t great, but it’s too early to put much stock into them. To the naked eye he appears to have solid range, but his route selection has been dubious at times. He’s certainly no sure thing to be a plus-defender.
There are certainly reasons to be excited about Teoscar Hernandez. He’s got strength, athleticism, speed, and he even flashed an improved eye at the plate at Triple-A with Houston this year. However, there are also holes in his game – and he’s at a stage of his development where it’s unfair to expect drastic improvement from here on out.
It’s easy to squint and imagine him as an above-average everyday player, but at this point he’s more someone to be intrigued by than have high expectations of.
More Blue Jays coverage on Yahoo Canada Sports: