The Philadelphia Phillies have seen this movie before. The legions of Phillies fans would like to see it again — and soon! A team littered with prospects, a few years away from contention, strikes gold with a Rule 5 draft pick.
Ten years apart, almost to the day. It was December 13, 2004, when then-general manager Ed Wade selected a fleet-footed outfielder named Shane Victorino from the Los Angeles Dodgers in that winter’s Rule 5 draft. The Phillies were a club on the rise. Filled with promising and established young players, both at the major league level and high minors.
Victorino fit the team and the city like a glove. His overall play meshed with what the Phillies were building. His emotion and hustle won over a city that has the ability to spot a phony from another time zone. What nobody realized at the time, was that Victorino would be an integral cog in a team that would end up in the promised land.
Fast forward to December 11, 2014. The Phillies select a failed infielder from the Texas Rangers organization named Odubel Herrera in the Rule 5 draft. His selection was based on a tip from the general manager of Herrera’s winter ball team in Venezuela. That general manager, Jorge Velandia, is employed in the Phillies’ front office.
Defensively, the Phillies had no idea where Herrera would play. He was a below-average second baseman and had just started learning to play the outfield. But the Phillies were attracted to two qualities that helped them decide to roll the dice: his energy and the fact that he could hit. During his final year in the Rangers’ organization, Herrera won the Texas League batting title (.321) and was the MVP of the Venezuelan Winter League (.372/.432/.556).
Once the Rangers exposed him in the Rule 5 draft, the Phillies, based on Velandia’s tip, jumped at the opportunity. So far, so good. Herrera followed up a strong rookie campaign with an even more impressive showing that garnered him his first All-Star Game (.286/.361/.420, 15 home runs, 25 stolen bases, 6.4 oWAR.) Even his fielding percentage (.981) during his two seasons in Philadelphia is not to be overlooked considering he is still learning the nuances of patrolling center field.
What is most striking between the two Rule 5 castoffs, is how eerily similar their rookie seasons were:
- Victorino (2006) .287/.346/.414, 6 HR, 46 RBI, .760 OPS
- Herrera (2015) .297/.344/.418, 8 HR, 41 RBI, .762 OPS
Should Herrera keep building on his first two seasons, the contract he just signed will be one of the biggest bargains in baseball. He was not eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season, but the Phillies hierarchy had seen all they needed. General manager Matt Klentak decided to lock him up for the foreseeable future.
The contract is for five years and $30.5 million. It runs through the 2021 season, and the Phillies hold club options for 2022 and 2023 with a $2.5 million buyout. The Phillies, like other progressive-thinking teams throughout baseball, are identifying young talent early in their major-league careers, and signing them to relatively inexpensive, club-friendly contracts.
The obvious plan is for Herrera to be the center fielder when the franchise is once again ready to compete for a World Series title. One of the cornerstones of the next great Phillies team? Perhaps. Only time will tell. However, all signs are pointing to the Phillies making all the right moves in a steady rebuild – a brick-by-brick rebuild and not the pre-fabricated variety.
In Philadelphia, fans are hoping to see “El Torito” riding on top of a flat bed truck down Broad Street in the not-too-distant future — just like his Rule 5 predecessor, “The Flyin’ Hawaiian,” nearly a decade earlier.