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Despite high marks, Enrique Hernandez could start in minors

Dodgers' Enrique Hernandez has potential, but could end up starting in triple A because of roster crowding

Those who were less than thrilled at what the Dodgers received in their off-season trades can take heart that at least one player this winter was receiving pretty much rave reviews.

Now if the Dodgers can only find a place for him on their roster.

You’d think that wouldn’t be a problem, given that one of Enrique Hernandez’s great strengths is his versatility. He can play second, third, the outfield and some shortstop.

Hernandez, 23, came to the Dodgers in the trade for Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and Miguel Rojas, along with left-hander Andrew Heaney, reliever Chris Hatcher and catcher Austin Barnes. Heaney was then dealt to the Angels for second baseman Howie Kendrick.

Hernandez played in Puerto Rico this winter, and then in the Caribbean Series, and apparently raised some eyebrows despite putting together a fairly modest .278/.338/.403 slash line.

Eduardo Perez managed Hernandez on the Puerto Rico team in the Caribbean Series and told ESPN’s Buster Olney: “I do see him as a player. His swing will work at the big league level -- it is level and stays in the zone a long time. He also has gap-to-gap power and he plays multiple defensive positions both in the infield and outfield. When I managed him in the Caribbean Series, he told me it didn't matter where I put him. He just wanted to play. The kid is a ballplayer.”

And ex-Dodger Alex Cora told Olney that Hernandez "defensively is versatile, can play a solid second base, third base and left field. Can fill in at shortstop in case of an emergency. Good arm and good instincts. Better athlete than what he looks like. Can really turn the double play from second base.

“He’s also versatile offensively. You can use him in different spots in the lineup and he will give you a quality at-bat and be successful. A good fastball hitter who uses the gaps. Like every hitter with occasional power, he gets in trouble when he tries to drive the ball out of the park. His swing gets long and loopy and loses the head of the bat.”

This is his third team in two years. In six seasons in the minors, he’s hit .272, although last year he hit .319 mostly at the triple-A level. In 121 major-league at-bats he’s hit .248 with 12 extra-base hits.

He seems like an ideal utility player. Trouble is, right now the Dodgers don’t have room for one.

They already have one too many reserve infielders. They have Justin Turner and Darwin Barney, and are stuck with their Alex Guerrero dilemma; contractually he has to be on the 25-man unless he agrees to go to the minors. Good luck with that.

Even if the Dodgers were to negotiate some sweeter deal to entice Guerrero to go down, Hernandez would still have to beat out Barney to make the team. That seems unlikely since Barney is out of options and Hernandez is not.

If you figure eight everyday players, five starting pitchers, seven relievers, an extra catcher, two additional outfielders and two extra infielders, that’s a jammed roster.

If Andre Ethier is traded, as most still expect, that would open a backup outfielder spot alongside Scott Van Slyke. Hernandez might have a shot there, but the new Dodgers brass also seems high on Chris Heisey, the outfielder picked up from the Reds for right-hander Matt Magill. Heisey gets strong reviews for his defensive work, and since that’s not Van Slyke’s forte, you’d need that from the other reserve outfielder should you want to sub out Carl Crawford late in a game.

Spring training has yet to open and not every projected player figures to enter April healthy, so there will be unexpected changes. Still, despite boffo reviews this winter, right now it’s best to pencil Hernandez starting the season at triple A.

Follow Steve Dilbeck on Twitter @stevedilbeck

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