It’s been a week since the Milwaukee Brewers traded Erik Kratz to the San Francisco Giants for C.J. Hinojosa. Now that we’ve all had a mourning period after Kratz’s departure, we can finally move forward and look at the prospect coming back in return for last season’s late add darling.
Hinojosa was first drafted as a prep player in 2012 in the 26th round by the Houston Astros. He didn’t sign, and a few years was drafted out of the University of Texas by the San Francisco Giants in the 11th round of the 2015 draft.
Since going pro, Hinojosa has been a slow mover through the minors. He started in low-A, split 2016 between high-A and AA. He’s now more or less stuck at AA. In 2017 he repeated his time at AA and went there again in 2018.
Scouts thought Hinojosa could be something a little more special with time at college, but he was one of Texas’ least impactful performers and suffered for it. Coming out of college he was described as a below-average hitter with below-average power. The reports also stated that he didn’t have the range or the arm to play short. His ceiling was thought to be a utility player at the highest level.
Hinojosa’s bat has since developed to the point where he is able to reliably make contact, but while doing nothing else of substance. He hit .274/.348/.393 through his first full season. In 2017, he ended the season by tearing his Achilles tendon and then started 2018 with a 50-game suspension for a drug of abuse.
A contact specialist with almost no power, Hinojosa doesn’t actually possess any of the traits that traditionally benefit contact-first players. He has just 15 stolen bases against 14 caught stealings, and hasn’t hit above .265 in any of his trips to AA. His power is well-below average, as demonstrated by his career .384 slugging, although he has a decent walk rate that will boost his OPS up to the 700s.
You can look to see if Hinojosa has been the victim of bad luck, but each of his three years at AA don’t suggest that’s the case. For his AA career, Hinojosa has a BABIP ranging between .280-.290. Yes, that’s slightly below the average, but reports on Hinojosa’s speed don’t indicate that he has the talent to turn fringe batted balls into hits by running them out like most high-contact infielders do.
Even in Hinojosa’s contact profile, there’s nothing to really cling onto. He has interesting outcomes when it comes to where the ball lands. About 40% of the balls in play go to his pull side, while another 40% go to opposite field. With very few hits going up the middle, that would suggest that Hinojosa is late to the ball as often as he is on top of it. The shortstop hits a bit more fly balls than average, but because of his lack of power, Hinojosa doesn’t muscle these balls into more effective line drives and can’t power many of them over the fence. You want contact hitters to end up producing more ground balls, which would increase the occasional odds that you get a ball to sneak through and get on base, but Hinojosa is well below that mark in his career for a contact profile. Only about 40% of his batted balls go on the ground, which is ineffective given his skillset. In the end, the fly balls tend to become automatic outs unless they land strategically in between the fielders. Smart teams will beat that with an easy shift, especially given his hard pull numbers.
The one strength he has is his tendency to avoid striking out. Last season, he only took a K in 9.9% of his plate appearances. Still, with the likely negative result of a batted ball, I’m not sure that holds the same value it does with other prospects.
The Giants seemed to disagree with reports on his defense as they played him predominantly at shortstop, with around 40 games a piece at second and third. Even David Stearns said that they loved his defensive versatility and feel comfortable playing him across the infield. While Hinojosa has a somewhat decent defensive profile, every scouting report you read says that he has extremely limited range. While a shortstop with no range can play at third and second, a utility player is still someone you want to be able to adequately play both middle infield positions.
In terms of projection, FanGraphs gives a little outlook into what to expect. Right now, they rank Hinojosa’s arm as his only above-average tool at 55. The hit tool could be above-average in the future, but they max that at 55 and currently at 40. With below average speed, power and fielding ability, it doesn’t look like Hinojosa has a promising future.
I have to side with FanGraphs’ future projection of a 40 grade on Hinojosa. His weak hit profile, lack of a stand out tool, weak defense and the fact that he’s repeating at AA again, per David Stearns, are all red flags to me. He seems to be no more than some organizational depth who can adequately fill weak spots in the infield between AA and AAA, which has its value, but not for the MLB club.