The Diamondbacks and Rangers made a minor deal on Opening Day, with Texas sending upper-level infielder Yonny Hernandez to Arizona for low-level center field speedster Jeferson Espinal. Arizona desperately needs big league infield help with Nick Ahmed (shoulder) and Josh Rojas (oblique) starting the year on the injured list. They traded cash to Chicago for upper-level infielder Sergio Alcántara a few days ago and now add the plucky Hernandez, who was squeezed out of Texas by the additions of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien from above, and by the bevy of prospects (among them Ezequiel Duran, Josh Smith, and Davis Wendzel) who are either on, or are soon-to-be-on, the 40-man from below.
Skilled and versatile, Hernandez is a likely big league role player whose abilities can impact a game in many situations. He’s tough to strike out and has reached base at a career .390 clip because he walks a lot and has an effective slash-and-dash offensive approach. He’s also an acrobatic multi-positional infielder. He will give a big league team a good at-bat off the bench and is an upgrade on the bases, and he can competently spell or sub for any of your heavy-hitting, shift-enabled infielders (like, eventually, a healthy Rojas ) later in games. Hernandez has the fourth-lowest swinging strike rate in the minor leagues since 2019. I considered putting him in the 40+ tier because of this, but his bat speed and power are so clearly below average that I think it’s unlikely he turns into more than a 1 WAR sort of role-player. He has that gritty, “winning player” cult hero vibe and will likely get a shot to play early and often in Arizona. He posted a .217 / .315 / .252 line (66 wRC +) in 166 big league plate appearances last year after being called-up at the beginning of August.
He immediately enters the Snakes’ big league middle infield mix with Top 100 prospect Geraldo Perdomo, Alcántara and his plus-plus arm, and eventually, a healthy Ahmed, Rojas, and minor league free agent signee Jeison Guzmán, a non-roster invitee who didn’t play in any big league spring games due to a shoulder injury. Per a source with Arizona, he’s slated to miss the next six-to-eight weeks.
Espinal was in the Honorable Mention section of the Diamondbacks list. He has some catalytic qualities and can really run, but his surface-level offensive performance was aided by an unsustainable BABIP, and the visual evaluation of his swing and bat speed were worse on my last look than they were throughout 2019, when Espinal first came to the states and excited me.
Texas has a 40-man crunch looming as a result of their go-wide style of rebuilding the farm system. Even though they’re in position to clear a half-dozen or so players (through a combination of free agency and declined options, or potential trades), they have almost a dozen prospects who could conceivably deserve a 40-man spot after the season . Espinal is also a 2022 40-man add but his feel to hit is so raw that realistically, he’s a slow-burning developmental prospect rather than one who will contribute to the Rangers potential crunch.
I like this deal a lot for Arizona and think it’s okay for Texas. The D-backs acquired a type of player (small, extreme level of contact, premium on-field makeup, à la David Fletcher and Nicky Lopez) who has tended to outperform scouting expectations in exchange for one who is farther away, volatile, and redundant given the potential star outfielders charging toward Chase Field. Texas gets a developmental flier, and will only feel a sting if they suffer an unexpected rash of injuries at their upper-level middle infield spots.