ALLENTOWN - Whether it's at this year's trade deadline or after the season, one of the most difficult decisions in franchise history is going to have to be made in the not-too-distant future.
Chase Utley: stay or go?
Much of that decision will be influenced by the play of the team and the play of the veteran second baseman who so far has been solid offensively and shaky at times defensively.
Some of the decision will also be influenced by the play of Cesar Hernandez, the 22-year-old second baseman at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Hernandez is making the case that he is close to being ready to play in the big leagues.
"I think he's headed in that direction," Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage said last week. "I think he still has a lot to learn. I still think there is more in his tank than what he's shown. He's got great tools. I think more power will come. Pitch recognition and his at-bats have been consistent - his numbers speak for themselves - as far as consistency."
Hernandez, after hitting .248 in 30 games at Lehigh Valley during the final month of last season, returned to the IronPigs a more polished player in 2013. He entered Saturday hitting .333 with four doubles, a league-leading four triples, two home runs, and 11 RBIs. He also had nine stolen bases in 10 attempts and a .387 on-base percentage.
"He's grown in every part of his game," director of player development Joe Jordan said. "He's grown physically, on the bases I think he's starting to get a better feel for stealing bases, and obviously offensively he has been the most steady performer we have here [at Lehigh Valley]."
Hernandez, a Venezuela native who played against the Phillies' Freddy Galvis as a kid, projects as a better offensive player than his countryman. He should be a solid second baseman, but he does not have the defensive skills or versatility of Galvis, who would also be an obvious consideration at second base if the Phillies decide they need to move on from Utley.
"He's an offensive second baseman who is a switch-hitter," Jordan said of Hermandez. "He showed his potential for power recently with a home run on a change-up by [big-league veteran] Francisco Liriano. Liriano got him out on a change-up the first time up and Cesar barely missed it. He tried to pitch him the same way the next at-bat and he smoked it. He's starting to recognize how guys are attacking him, and that's why he is hitting what he is."
Brundage described Hernandez as a shy kid who is starting to emerge from his shell. Hernandez was reluctant to be interviewed even using catcher Humberto Quintero as a translator, but finally relented.
"I have more experience this year and I knew some of the pitchers in the league, so I made an adjustment and I feel better," he said.
Hernandez said he doesn't worry about Utley's posing a potential roadblock to the big leagues.
"I cannot do anything about that," he said. "I just try to help this ballclub win and when I get the call I get the call."