A young infielder caught Alex Suarez’s attention a couple years ago at a showcase near the Cubs Academy in the Dominican Republic. Even among older prospects, he stood out for how easily parts of the game seemed to come to him.
Suarez, then the Cubs director of international pro scouting, turned to scout Gian Guzman and said, “Where did this kid come from?”
“You have no idea,” Suarez remembers Guzman saying. “He’s definitely a follow.”
That kid was Cristian Hernandez, now a top prospect in this year’s international class. The Cubs signed him earlier this month, after adding him to their list of scouting targets not long after he made Suarez’s “eyes light up” at that showcase.
Suarez is now the Cubs senior director of international player development and operations. Guzman is the director of Dominican Republic scouting operations/international crosschecker. And Hernandez headlines the group of 16 international players the Cubs had signed, as of Monday afternoon, since the signing period opened on Jan. 15. Five to six of those signings the club hopes will be approved this week.
“Over the course of his time as an amateur,” Suarez said of Hernandez, “it just felt like every time we went back and saw him, he was improving, and he was asking where he can improve. Those types of players that are hungry to get better and make adjustments, and at that young of age to be as good a self-evaluator as he is, to know that there's parts of his game that he needed to work on, I think is what drew him to so many teams and to us specifically.”
In the years since Suarez first saw Hernandez play, the shortstop has adjusted his plate approach. Even a couple years ago, Suarez remembers Hernandez “putting a charge into balls” in batting practice. But he’d sometimes sacrifice power for contact.
As time went on, Suarez said, Hernandez “started figuring out when to take those calculated risks and sell out for power when he when he saw a pinch in the zone.”
Hernandez’s “scary raw power” as a teenager reminded Suarez and others of a workout Astros shortstop Carlos Correa had at Wrigley Field when he was draft-eligible.
Hernandez has also drawn comparisons to Manny Machado and Alex Rodriguez, even garnering the nickname, “Baby A-Rod.” Suarez can see why – Hernandez is about 6-foot-2, with room to put on muscle as he gets older. But Suarez is careful not to box in such a young player. Who knows what the next couple years of growth will bring, both in terms of skills and physical development?
The Cubs do, however, project a high ceiling.
Said Cubs vice president of player development Matt Dorey: “It's not often that you get tools, athleticism, upside, with this other package of humility, work ethic and desire to be great. So, when that happens, it just gets you really excited about the possibilities for his future.”