In naming the then-31-year-old outfielder Yadiel Hernandez their Minor League Player of the Year for 2019, the Nationals noted that Hernandez led, “Washington’s Minor League system in home runs (33), RBIs (90), slugging percentage (.604), OPS (1.009), hits (142), extra-base hits (56) and runs scored (87),” in his third season in the club’s system after signing out of Cuba in 2016, following six seasons playing for the Cocodrilos de Matanzas in the Cuban Baseball Federation (2009-2014).
Hernandez led the Nationals’ full-season minor leaguers, “in batting average (.323),” as well, “while his .406 on-base percentage ranked second,” and, “Hernandez was named Fresno’s team Most Valuable Player and was selected to the Triple-A All-Star game in his first full Triple-A season.”
“We thought we’d take a chance on him,” Johnny DiPuglia, the Nationals’ Vice President and Assistant General Manager, International Operations said after signing Hernandez in 2016, as quoted by the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes. “He’s got a profile for us. We’ll find out.”
“He’s not your high-profile Cuban player, but he’s a legit left-handed hitter who grinds at-bats,” DiPuglia said. “He’s not a big, physical guy, but he’s always put up good numbers, a really good on-base percentage in every league he’s played in. He’s got the ability to bunt, the ability to hit the ball the other way, move runners over, he can play all three outfield positions.”
In three seasons, 370 games and 1,460 plate appearances in the Nationals’ farm system from 2017-19, Hernandez put up a combined .301/.385/.503 line with 61 doubles and 63 homers.
Now the long-shot signing, at 32 years of age, will get an opportunity to play in the majors with the Nationals calling him up after placing Howie Kendrick on the 10-Day IL (retroactive to 9/6) on Wednesday.
“We added Yadiel Hernandez,” manager Davey Martinez announced in advance of the series opener with the Atlanta Braves on Thursday.
“Great story. He’s worked his tail off to get here. Super proud of him. He’ll play some left field, DH some, pinch hit some, but really happy that he’s here, really happy that he’s worked — great kid.”
“He’ll help us as a left-handed hitter off the bench,” Martinez added.
“So, excited to watch him play a little bit, I know he’s excited, I just talked to him about 10 minutes ago, and his eyes got watery.
“He worked really hard to get here, so I’m super proud that he did, I’m super proud that he’s here.”
Asked why they decided to give Hernandez the opportunity now, when there were other options in their 60-Man Player Pool working at the club’s Alternate Training Site down in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Martinez said Hernandez gives them options while Juan Soto’s elbow heals up.
“We don’t know when Juan can throw again, he’s going to start throwing a little bit, but we don’t know, and I want to keep him — unless he’s 100%, just let him DH and hit for the time being. We felt like Yadi has been swinging the bat really well,” Martinez explained.
“He can play left field, he can play a little bit of right field, so you know, give him a shot. He also can DH if Soto does come back.
“Nice bat to have off the bench. He can hit, he can hit for power, won [Minor League] Player of the Year last year for us, so I think he fits in.”
Hernandez’s path to the big leagues began in 2015, when he left the Cuban national team during a tournament in North Carolina. It wasn’t until two years later that he started in the Nationals’ organization, and three seasons and four years later he got the call.
“Here’s a Cuban kid that worked his way to get here, played — went through Mexico, played, got him, signed him, and worked diligently to get better, and he’s hit. Everywhere he’s been he’s hit, and hit for power, and he never gave up,” Martinez said.
“He’s not a young guy. But he never gave up. And here he is today getting an opportunity to play in the major leagues, which was a dream for him, so like I said, I’m proud.
“Because a lot of times you get to a certain age and you don’t think you’re going to make it and you decide to something else, and he stuck with it. Like I said, he’s ecstatic to be here.
“He wants to help us win games, and he’s going to get an opportunity to do different things for us.”
“It’s one of those stories, where it’s not a younger guy, it’s an older guy trying to live out his dream, and that’s to play in the major leagues,” Martinez added.
“One, he’s worked diligently to get here, and two, for me, I’m proud to be a part of it, and to be the guy to tell him, ‘Hey, congratulations. You worked really hard, keep doing what you’re doing, and just go out there and have fun and just try to help us win games.’”
“To see his face today was awesome,” the manager said. “I played with a guy that was  years old, [Jim Morris], they made a movie about him, in Tampa, left-handed pitcher, he got his debut with us, and you talk about being excited, he was a teammate, but you felt like he was — you actually felt like he was a 21-year-old kid. It was just a lot of fun to watch him and the way he reacted to the whole rookie status quo for him at the age of 36, 37. So that was pretty exciting.”