Ronaldo Hernandez was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays on August 9, 2014 out of Arjona, Colombia. Hernandez is the second player from the 2014 International Free Agent class to rank in our top five.
Hernandez’s minor league progress was slow as he transitioned from third base to catching. In his professional debut in the 2015 Dominican Summer League Hernandez suffered a major groin injury that caused him to miss all but 13 games.
In 2016 Hernandez repeated the DSL putting up gaudy offensive numbers: he hit .340/.406/.485 over 206 plate appearances.
After this strong showing the Rays had him skip the GCL and report to Princeton for his first stateside season. Hernandez’s bat didn’t skip a beat as he put up a .332/.382/.507 and moving to a more appropriate league for his age.
Last year Hernandez got his first taste of full season ball with the Bowling Green Hot Rods. He hit .284/.339/.494 and hit 21 homers. Hernandez won the Midwest League Home Run Derby.
Hernandez’s abilities really shine at the plate where he brings above average bat to ball skills and plus power that is already showing in games. His plate discipline numbers show below average walk rates, but comes with below average strike out rates to compensate.
The likely outcome is a bat first catcher that the Rays have been looking for as long as they’ve been a franchise.
The question has been whether Hernandez is a catcher in the major leagues. There are mixed opinions, but he made positive defensive strides in 2018. Fortunately Hernandez wasn’t Rule 5 eligible this winter giving him a better chance to stay behind the plate instead of forcing the Rays to accelerate his bat to the majors as a likely first baseman.
Hernandez’s best skill behind the plate is his plus-plus arm that caught 27 of 75 (36.0%) of attempted basestealers in 2018.
FanGraphs has a video that includes both hitting and catching looks of Hernandez.
What to expect in 2019.
Hernandez should be assigned to Port Charlotte (A+) and have the opportunity to end the year at Montgomery (AA).
Once again the focus is going to be keeping Hernandez moving forward defensively. The offense will be what continues to bring him attention.
The likely timeline for Hernandez contributing to the major league club could be in 2021 or 2022. It will likely take time, but the reward could be a special bat.