‘A lot of eyeballs on him’: Cubs’ Cristian Hernández embracing lofty expectations

Cristian Hernández is considered one of the Cubs’ top 3 prospects and has drawn comparisons to Manny Machado and Alex Rodriguez.

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Cristian Hernandez makes an acrobatic throw during infield practice at prospect minicamp at in Mesa, Arizona.

Cristian Hernandez makes an acrobatic throw during infield practice at prospect minicamp at in Mesa, Arizona.

John Antonoff/Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Comparing prospects to established big-leaguers is a risky business.

Yes, player comps provide a frame of reference. But they almost always evoke the names of superstars. Talk about outsized expectations.

Cubs prospect Cristian Hernández doesn’t flinch when he’s compared to Manny Machado and Alex Rodriguez.

“That’s the goal one day — to be that,” Hernández said this week through team interpreter Will Nadal. “I’ve just got to keep doing my work, be focused, committed, just continue to do everything that I need to do to get to that point, hopefully, one day.”

Hernández, 18, has plenty of time to get there. He’s already the Cubs’ No. 3-ranked prospect, according to mlb.com. When he signed with the Cubs last year out of the Dominican Republic, he was considered a top-5 prospect in his international class.

“You see his potential, not only physically — he’s really gifted in the infield, and he hits the ball really hard, and all those things are true,” said Rachel Folden, a minor-league hitting coach and lead lab tech. “But what separates him is just his maturity.

“He’s come to minicamp, and there’s a lot of eyeballs on him. And he’s handled that very, very well. And I’m very, very impressed with his maturity and his level of focus. That kid works.”

Hernández played on the Cubs’ Dominican Summer League team last season, slashing .285/.398/.424 in 47 games.

His focus this spring, he said, is shortening his swing, making it more compact.

“As you keep going higher up in the levels of the minor-league season, it keeps getting more difficult,” he said. “So I’m just trying to keep that swing, keep that motion, work on that in the drills.”

Now, working up through the Cubs’ farm system is a family affair. The Cubs signed Cristian’s brother Alexis when the international signing period opened two months ago.

“It was something really exciting for my family,” Cristian said. “Him signing with us is something that really made me happy. I just gave him the advice of keeping [up] his development, being committed and just trying to do everything every day to get better.”

The brothers already have plenty of experience playing together, starting when they were about 5 and 6 years old.

“A lot of happy times and good moments,” Cristian said.

They’re not guaranteed to remain with the organization they first signed with. But there’s no harm in dreaming about playing at Wrigley Field together one day. Alexis, 17, also plays shortstop, but Cristian has a solution to get both of them on the same field.

“Alexis might be a little stronger,” Cristian said, laughing. “He could be at third base, and I’m at shortstop.”

If their youngest brother one day joins the Cubs, too, they can make room again.

Cristian has taken it upon himself to push his brothers. But he also has his own tricks.

It would be understandable if the expectations that come with his high ranking on the Cubs’ prospect list intimidated Cristian. Instead, he looks at the list for motivation. He doesn’t want to be No. 3. He wants to be No. 1.

“That’s the goal, just to keep climbing the rankings,” he said, “and see myself as a big-leaguer one day.”

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