Rookie Sammy Hernández is having an excellent start to his debut season in the Puerto Rico Winter League, playing for Leones de Ponce. Sammy is a 19-year-old catcher prospect drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 14th round of the 2022 MLB Draft out of Lakeland High School in Lakeland, FL. He now plays for the St. Louis Cardinals organization, as the Cardinals received his services from the Blue Jays in exchange for those of relief pitcher Genesis Cabrera last July.
In his first four games with Leones de Ponce, Sammy has hit the ground running, earning five hits in his first ten at-bats, and has displayed a keen eye at the plate by earning four walks, which gives him a slash line of .500/.643/.500. He also has driven in two runs. Sammy has displayed excellent acumen on defense by throwing out both base runners who have attempted to steal a base from him. With his performances and potential, Sammy is one of the early favorites for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
Sammy is a native of Ponce and grew up in the nearby town of Salinas. “It is an honor to wear the uniform of Leones de Ponce, as my great-grandfather once did,” he stated. His great-grandfather, Israel Ten, was also a player for Leones and played nine seasons in MiLB as a pitcher for the Braves, Cubs, and Yankees organizations. When asked how he thinks the Winter League games will help him with his development as a professional player, he responded, “Playing in the Winter League will be great for my development as a player since I can play alongside rookies in their 20s and veterans in their 40s who have plenty of experiences that can help me with my development”. Sammy also spoke highly of his manager and fellow Ponce native Edwin Rodriguez, whom he says “he has been great and is always reaching out ensuring I have everything I need. He is one of the best managers I have ever had”.
Puerto Rico is colloquially known as “the Land of Catchers” among baseball fans. Legendary performances in the Major Leagues from names like Rodriguez, Posada, Santiago, and Molina, the youngest of whom was managing the game for Criollos de Caguas right across the diamond from Sammy on Friday night, have given Puerto Rico that nickname among baseball fans. When asked if he had approached the future Hall of Fame catcher for a chat, Sammy unassumingly chuckled and said, “No, not yet. I am taking my time and maintaining a healthy, respectful distance for the time being”. Being a catching prospect for the Cardinals organization and a promising young catcher from the land of catchers, Sammy may not have to wait too long to pick the brain of one of the best to do it. Today, though, Sammy seems to be enjoying his time becoming one of the next great catchers from Puerto Rico.