Ok, so I will admit it. I’ve been watching way too much Philadelphia Phillies baseball the past two weeks. Philadelphia is not a good baseball team, and even with a 12-2 surge to start the second half of the season, they are still 23 games below the .500 mark. Despite being just a smidge better than unwatchable for the entire first half, (admit it, Jeff Francoeur pitching two innings because the bullpen phone was off the hook is pretty entertaining.) the Phillies have actually had some interesting storylines going for them in the second half of the season. Aaron Nola has been outstanding in his first three starts, and Cole Hamels rode out of town on a no-hitter before bringing in a very good haul of prospects from the Texas Rangers.
The one player on the Phillies who has caught my eye since I began giving the team a slightly more regular turn in my baseball viewing rotation has been Odubel Herrera.
Herrera was a Rule 5 pick from the Rangers’ farm system before the start of the season. Like most picks in that Catch 21 draft, Herrera was not completely ready for the big leagues, but more ready than most. He had played 197 games at the Double-A level in 2013 and 2014, and performed well there. The 22-year-old Venezuelan had a .288/.330/.370 line in 757 at-bats for the Frisco RoughRiders. Over the course of his entire six-year minor league career, he slashed .294./354/.377. He flashed good speed, racking up 128 steals, and also showed an ability to get the bat on the ball, striking out in just 16.2% of his plate appearances. That’s a very respectable rate for a player who debuted at the age of 17.
In picking Herrera, Ruben Amaro may actually have done more than one thing right on the season. That may be a tough pill to swallow for most Phillies fans.
For the Phillies, Herrera has posted a line of .283/.312/.424 with five home runs, 21 doubles, and three triples in 92 games. He has also swiped nine bags and struck out only 74 times in his rookie season. The only real blemish on his stat line is a 3.2% walk rate that has resulted in just 10 free passes in 316 plate appearances. Plate discipline is not a huge concern, as Herrera has swung at just 36.2% of pitches outside the strike zone (Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles, for example, has chased 45.1% of pitches this year), and he has seen a pretty respectable 3.96 pitches/plate appearance. When he swings at pitches in the strike zone, he usually makes contact, as evidenced by his 86.% rate of contact on such pitches. Walks will come as Herrera matures as a hitter and becomes less of a hacker, but they are not necessarily the be all, end all for a leadoff hitter. Take a look at Ichiro Suzuki‘s career walk rate if you don’t believe me.
Perhaps what has been most impressive about Herrera’s 2015 season, is that it is his first season actually playing the outfield every day. Prior to this year, he had played only 13 games in the outfield, but in 630 innings in centerfield this year, he has made only four errors, and a few highlight reel catches. There are going to be some rough plays (see his nearly bungled catch of Kris Bryant‘s deep fly to end Hamels’ no-hitter), his arm may need continued strengthening, and he needs to work on translating his speed into effective routes to the ball. Herrera is raw as an outfielder, but with another offseason spent focused on honing that craft, his athletic abilities should begin to turn him into a very good defensive centerfielder.
Herrera has been helped by luck this season with his .361 BABip, but he’s hit more line drives and fly balls than ground balls, sprays the ball all over the field, and generally makes strong contact. His batting average could get dinged slightly if a few more “lucky” hits do not find grass, but overall, there is not much to dislike about his performance this season. The last Rule 5 pick to have a lasting impact on the Phillies roster was Shane Victorino. The Flyin’ Hawaiian was a Rule 5 pick before the 2005 season, and did not even come close to the level of success Herrera has seen this year, but after playing only 21 games in his first year with the Phillies, Victorino blossomed into an integral part of the 2008 World Series winning team, won two Gold Gloves, and made two All-Star teams.
Only time will tell if the Phillies have unearthed another Rule 5 gem in Odubel Herrera, but all signs point to him having the potential to have a Victorino-like impact on the Phillies’ roster for years to come. Herrera came from an unexpected place, but based on this year, he could be the real steal from the Texas Rangers’ farm system, not the pieces acquired in the Hamels deal.