When the Los Angeles Dodgers picked up Kiké Hernandez prior to the 2015 season, there was very little fanfare surrounding his acquisition. Hernandez had somewhat of a breakout season as a prospect in 2014, finally displaying enough offense to look like a potentially capable major leaguer, but then he faltered upon arriving with the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline. The Dodgers saw enough in Hernandez to get him included in Dee Gordon trade, though, and Hernandez has already begun to pay dividends as a key cog on the Dodgers roster.

Hernandez opened the 2015 season in Triple-A, but by the end of April, his talents were required in Los Angeles. He got off to a bit of a slow start, posting a sub-.300 OBP through his first 20 games, but once Don Mattingly figured out how to properly deploy Hernandez, his numbers began to soar. By the end of the season, Hernandez had been thrust into regular playing time in center field, thanks to the collapse of Joc Pederson, and he finished out the 2015 season with an outstanding .307/.346/.490 slash line.

In 2016, Hernandez has once again been pressed into more playing time than the team expected. Despite already having exceeded expectations last year, he has managed to repeat that feat again in the early-goings of 2016, putting up a .400/.438/.700 line through his first 12 games of the year. Those numbers certainly aren’t sustainable, but Hernandez looks to have proven that he is an important player in the Dodgers’ success.

Hernandez’s value essentially comes down to a pair of key components: his ability to play all across the diamond, and his ability to absolutely crush left-handed pitching.

The defensive versatility factor is what got Hernandez to the bigs in the first place. His bat never appeared to be a carrying tool for him as a prospect, but he kept ascending through the minors because of his ability to wear multiple gloves. As a minor leaguer with the Houston Astros, he logged several hundred innings at shortstop, third base, and in the outfield, as well as the 3,000-plus innings that he played at second base. In the big leagues, Hernandez has continued to shift all across the diamond. While defensive metrics aren’t entirely dependable, especially in these small sample sizes, it should be noted that Hernandez ranks just above average by both DRS and UZR at shortstop and in the outfield (although strangely, not at second), while passing the eye test too.

Make no mistake, Hernandez’s ability to fill the utilityman role is something that organizations adore. Ben Zobrist has been beloved around the league for years now, and in the past several seasons we have seen Josh Harrison and Brock Holt each make All-Star teams as utility players. Defensive versatility attracts attention like it never has before.

More important than his defensive versatility, has been Hernandez’s bat against left-handed pitching. In his brief career, Hernandez has been one of the greatest hitters of all-time against left-handed pitchers:

Shortly after that tweet Hernandez added a double off of Madison Bumgarner to raise that slugging percentage even higher. Sure it’s a small sample size, but it’s also impossible to ignore such an extreme level of success. Crushing lefties might not get him into the lineup on an everyday basis, but it certainly earns him the right to hit high in the order against opposite-handed pitching.

Between Hernandez’s defensive versatility and his ability to destroy lefty pitchers, he’s becoming one of the Dodgers’ most valuable assets, especially with all of the injuries they’ve suffered to their outfielders in the early-going. He’s having an excellent start to open up the 2016 campaign, and given his talents, we could see him gaining more and more playing time as he develops into a potentially All-Star-caliber utilityman. He’s a player who deserves more recognition throughout the rest of the baseball world.

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