In an attempt to give minor leaguers a deserving chance at the major league level, the Rule 5 draft allows teams to fill out the 40-man roster with players whom they feel have the ability to contribute right away; the selected must remain on the big league team, or be offered back. This draft has resulted in some notable players being selected- Roberto Clemente, Jose Bautista, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino- and the Phillies may have struck gold once again.
World Series champion Shane Victorino first; now, Odubel Herrera?
Drafted in the 2014 Rule 5 draft from the Texas Rangers organization, Odubel Herrera came into the Phillies with potential to become an everyday outfielder. Scouts touted his ability to get on base while hitting for a high average, winning batting titles in AA Texas League and Venezuelan Winter League the year prior. Primarily a middle infielder early in his professional baseball career, the transition to the outfield had been made while with the Rangers farm system because a plethora of other top prospects were blocking his way as an infielder. This tough luck situation gave him versatility, and with his bat, he garnered the attention of the Phillies organization to give him a chance.
The Phillies were 73-89, fifth in the NL East, and was on a quick spiral downwards from the teams that had won five straight NL East pennants from 2007-2011. The team needed change, and with nothing to lose, Odubel Herrera could provide an uptick in the rebuilding process- if he panned out to what was expected.
He had his opportunity to crack a big league roster for the first time when then-GM Ruben Amaro Jr said Herrera was viewed as an “intriguing prospect” by the club and he “fits the bill” for developing speed and athleticism within their lineup whilst providing an opportunity for young players to prove themselves. When coming in to Philadelphia, he had a chance to become a staple in the outfield which consisted of struggling, once top prospect Domonic Brown, singles slap hitting Ben Revere, and veteran Marlon Byrd.
So far, dividends have paid off. Odubel Herrera has been a sparkplug to the offense that has struggled to facilitate any consistency, especially atop the lineup following the Ben Revere trade.
During the 2015 season, Herrera manned center field in 136 games played, and committed a mere five errors. At the plate, he delivered solid numbers:
.297/.344/.418, 8 HR, 16 SB, 41 RBI, 28 BB
Sure, one year may be a small sample size to determine the future in the major leagues, but for a struggling Phillies team, they could do much worse in the outfield.
Coming into 2016 spring training, Herrera was the incumbent, almost assuredly performing well enough in his first year to have a starting gig locked up for what looked to be another rough season for the rebuilding Phillies. All he needed was 13 games in sunny Florida before the being warmed up for the regular season opener in Cincinnati. The outfield was barren, much of the team inexperienced, and pitching far from certain. Only time would tell if he would be a mainstay for the club in the future or if 2015 was a fluke year. Spring training came and went, along with it uncertainty about the club’s performance.
Manager Pete Mackanin opted to use Herrera in the second and third spot in the lineup in the early parts of the season, with need of reliable bats capable of driving in runners while getting on base. His most reliable hitter was in the middle of the lineup hoping he could spark the offense by producing runs and driving in runners. However, following a rough start to the season in which the team was swept by Cincinnati and starting 0-4, a change was quickly needed; the offense was faltering.
After much hesitation, Herrera was placed into the leadoff spot on April 20, for the game against division arch rival New York Mets. The result was a Phillies win, generating five runs on 10 hits, the first time this season with double digit hits following a club record 15 games with fewer than 10 hits. Mackanin, Herrera, and the Phillies never looked back, building off that win and taking nine of the next ten games, vaulting them into NL East contention.
The biggest reason for the spark in the lineup could be brought back to Odubel Herrera’s lead off change and his ability to put up great at bats, fighting to get on base. He has drawn 31 walks already this season, through 45 games, surpassing last season’s 28 base on balls.
2016 Odubel Herrera seems to match that of his rookie year, possibly making him a piece for the future, as long as the batter reliability can continue. Thus far Herrera has proved his worth:
.335/.445/.456, 4 HR, 6 SB, 14 RBI, 31 BB
Though he is one of the Phillies’ bright spots, he’s not completely out of the shadow yet. Manager Pete Mackanin took exception to Herrera during Monday’s game versus the Tigers when he did not run out a ground ball, after starting the game 3-3. Mackanin was willing to sacrifice a win to send a message- Odubel was subsequently benched the following inning. It’s all a learning curve for everyone, even those who have proven themselves at the highest level.
Following a rough start to the season, things have looked bright for the Phillies, surpassing many expectations, and keeping pace with the NL East leaders. It may be another rebuilding year, but winning is certainly an added bonus to the young team on the rise. Odubel Herrera may just be a gem the Phillies were lucky to grab from the Rangers, quickening the rebuild that much more.
No matter the finish, if the Phillies are able to keep up with the National League and maybe even fight for a wild card spot, the season is a success. 2015 could have been the roughest of years, as this squad looks to be on the rise with much more talent to come.
Currently, the Phillies stand third in the NL East and tied for the second wild card spot with a 25-20 record.
photo credit: USA Today