TRENTON — On this date last summer, Jan Hernandez looked like a bust.
A 2013 third-round pick, the Phillies prospect was proving to be error-prone at third base and a strikeout machine at the plate, batting just .202 for high-A Clearwater. Within the week, Hernandez served a stint as a designated hitter, then was moved to right field in a desperate attempt to find something, anything, to rejuvenate his career.
But exactly one year later, Hernandez took the field Wednesday evening alongside the likes of Tim Tebow, fellow Phillies hopefuls Zach Green, Deivi Grullon and Edgar Garcia, and the No. 6 overall prospect in baseball — Colorado's Brendan Rodgers — as a double-A Eastern League all star.
Then on his first at-bat of the night, he crushed a two-run shot well over the left wall at Arm & Hammer Park. Clearly, Hernandez's rejuvenation has come to fruition.
"This is a dream," he said of the all-star selection. "This is good for me, for my career. This puts me on the map."
The 23-year-old Puerto Rican is batting .292 with 10 home runs in 73 games with the Reading Fightin Phils and has a .971 fielding percentage in the outfield — well up from his dreadful .835 and .916 marks during his last two campaigns at third base. He entered this week's break on one of his hottest streaks of the season, hitting .325 with 12 runs scored in his last 10 games.
Hernandez said his positional move has not only taken better advantage of his strong arm but also given him more time to spend with Reading hitting coach Kevin Riggs — a commitment that is clearly paying off. He has been devoting his efforts to focusing harder on each at-bat but hasn't made any major swing adjustments.
"It's more relaxed for me, in the outfield, and I feel like I can think about myself a little more," he said. "There's nothing [new] about my mechanics — it's all mental."
Right field has taught him more about patience and waiting for opportunities, too. But that patience has yet to translate to his reading of pitches, as Hernandez's strikeout rate (28.7 percent) remains sky-high and his walk rate (6.7 percent) is almost as poor.
For a player with decent but not exceptional power, the severity of that flaw — over six seasons in the minor leagues, his strikeout rate is an astronomical 35.2 percent — continues to be a massive roadblock to any major-league aspirations. Hernandez knows it, too: Asked Wednesday about his efforts to reduce it, he chuckled apprehensively before admitting, "That's hard."
This week was about appreciating Hernandez's undeniable strides, though, and as he trotted the bases while admiring his colossal blast Wednesday night, it was abundantly clear that the third baseman-turned-right fielder has come a long, long way in 12 months.
"It's been a great year for me so far," he said. "It's good to maintain my focus and help my team win ballgames."
Phillies prospect and Reading catcher Deivi Grullon hit 24 home runs to top runner-up Sam Hilliard, a Rockies prospect and Hartford Yard Goats outfielder, and the rest of the field at the Eastern League home run derby on Tuesday night.
Grullon hit 10 homers to Hilliard's nine in the final round to claim the title, hammering the winner over the scoreboard in center field — 407 feet away — with 35 seconds still on the clock.