Jan Hernandez has always been an intriguing prospect for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was a 2013 third-round pick out of the Carlos Beltran Academy, advertised as having good power and a strong arm.
As a Williamsport Crosscutter, the 19-year old has shown off both of those tools as the every day third baseman. But there have been two distinct versions of Jan Hernandez manning the hot corner for the Cutters this year.
In this week's series against Vermont alone he's flashed the leather, making three or four highlight reel plays, diving to both sides and showing off his strong arm. He also hit his fourth home run of the season in Thursday night's win.
But then there's the Hernandez who has seen his batting average fall to .203 prior to the series opener with the Lake Monsters. After starting the season in the middle of the Cutters' lineup, Hernandez finds himself consistently hitting seventh in one of the best offenses in the New York-Penn League. He's worked his batting average back up to .231, and his four home runs are second-best on the team.
As rough a stretch as it's been for Hernandez, he's found a way to separate the two parts of the game from one another. His home run Thursday came just a half-inning after he bobbled a ground ball which allowed a run to score with two outs.
His incredible diving plays in Wednesday's win came on a night where he was 0 for 4 with a pair of strikeouts.
"I think he's doing alright at the plate," Cutters pitcher David Whitehead said of Hernandez after Wednesday's game. "He's having his good days and his bad days, but defensively he's making routine plays and he's making the spectacular plays. He's not carrying (his offense) out there. He's maturing a lot, which is good."
Hernandez has been visibly frustrated in recent days as he's struggled at the plate. After striking out on three pitches for the second time Wednesday, Hernandez angrily flipped his bat toward the left-handed batter's box and just dropped his helmet to the dirt.
It's been a common theme of Hernandez's offense as he's struck out at least once in 14 of his last 16 games. His 34.1 percent strikeout rate is the highest on the team and he's struggled all year to find consistency with his offense. Just three of his 21 games played this year have resulted in multi-hit games.
"I think he's trying to get three hits in one at-bat," Cutters manager Shawn Williams said. "It's about learning how to play day to day. You're going to have your 0-fers all the time, but you need to learn how to deal with it, make the adjustments and come back the next day with a clean slate ready to go."
What is promising for Williams is that Hernandez is isolating his problems at the plate. He's not letting his offensive woes carry over to his defense.
Hernandez was drafted as a shortstop with the intentions of moving the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder to third base. He looks like he's been playing the position his entire life.
In Wednesday's win, Hernandez dove toward the hole between shortstop and third base in the second inning, cutting off a baseball from shortstop Emmanuel Marrero, and got to his feet and fired a seed to first base for an out. Later in the game he dove to the backhand side down the third-base line snaring a ball and firing another missile to first for an out.
He nearly started a beauty of a double play in the sixth inning when he slid to the backhand side to snare a hot shot. As he got to his feet to throw to second, his plant foot slid out from under him and his throw to second was a touch wide, but he still got the out.
It was a continuance of Hernandez's brilliance at third base as he's shown off tremendous athleticism and one of the strongest and most accurate arms on the team.
"When he make plays like that, you know they have more range where if you let the other team hit it, your guys will go get it," Whitehead said.
It's all a part of the learning process for the 19-year old. The mental toughness he's showing in being able to separate the struggles of hitting with the successes of his defense is just the kind of mental toughness which could eventually bring him out of his offensive funk.
"Everyone goes through their ups and downs. He's swinging fine and working every day with (hitting coach Eddie Dennis)," Williams said. "It's going to come around where you see him driving a ball more consistently like (Thursday night). He's doing just fine."
The Crosscutters made a trio of roster moves Friday as relief pitcher Joe DeNato was promoted to low Class A Lakewood. The left-hander out of Indiana was 2-0 in eight games with the Crosscutters, allowing 9 hits in 11 1/3 innings with a 3.18 ERA.
In turn, Lakewood sent relief pitchers Jesen Therrien and Christopher O'Hare to Williamsport. Therrien is a 2011 17th-round pick who was 2-0 with a 7.35 ERA in 22 games (21 relief appearances) in Lakewood. He allowed 57 hits in 45 1/3 innings, striking out 28 and walking 22.
O'Hare was a 23rd-round pick out in the 2013 draft and was 0-4 with a 7.94 ERA in 12 games with Lakewood this year. In 17 innings pitched, O'Hare allowed 19 hits, struck out 22 and walked 14.