After getting his first days off in the season this week, and as Ryne Sandberg begins to get a little more experimental with the outfield on a daily basis, let’s take a look at this season’s outfield star, Odubel Herrera, and another option Sandberg could have for him.
Odubel came to Philadelphia in the Rule 5 draft this offseason, and has proven to be one of Ruben Amaro’s best pickups of the year, thus far. Herrera was a prospect out of Venezuela in 2008, signed when he was just 16 years old by the Texas Rangers. An infielder to start his career, Herrera mostly spent his time at second base and shortstop, and only in 2014 did he start to find himself playing the outfield. He began to see the bulk of his playing time in 2011 with the Hickory Crawdads, playing 119 games and getting 464 at bats while posting a .306 batting average. That year he won awards for the MiLB.com Organization All-Star for Texas, while also winning the Post-Season All-Star award for the South Atlantic League.
In 2012, Herrera moved his way up the ladder to the Single-A Carolina League, and had 500 at bats in 126 games, posting a .284 batting average on the year. He won the Mid-Season All-Star award with Texas in 2013 after making his way to Double-A Frisco, hitting .257 with 7 triples and 100 hits over 389 at bats.
Herrera once again found himself with Single-A Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League to start the 2014 season. There, he would play 29 games before moving back to the Frisco RoughRiders for the rest of the season; this time as the outfielder he would eventually become. Herrera, in a new position, won the Mid-Season All-Star award for 2014, while also picking up the Post-Season All-Star award for Texas. He’d finish the season with a batting average of .315, and had proven himself to be the hitter he was striving to be, gathering a career high 73 runs and 59 RBIs.
That leads us to 2015, with the Philadelphia Phillies grabbing Herrera in the Rule 5 Draft during the winter meetings. Proving to be quite a valuable outfield asset, perhaps more so because his arm is an upgrade over Ben Revere’s, Herrera seems to have found a place in centerfield for the Phillies. While Ryne Sandberg has been experimenting with the outfield, Herrera has found himself in a dance with other outfielders on the roster. Ben Revere, Darin Ruf, Grady Sizemore and Jeff Francoeur have all seen playing time; Dominic Brown has been making his rehab through the minors. Could a move back to the infield for Herrera help ease the outfield situation?
His glove can’t be any worst than Cesar Hernandez, who has been filling in for Chase Utley (having problems of his own, but more so in the offense department). And, as Herrera needs to be kept on the 40-man roster throughout the year, moving him around could prove helpful in the long run.
As we’ve seen throughout his playing time, Ben Revere has clear weaknesses at centerfield, but his bat is still proving to be of use and his left field play has been reasonable. The latest news shows that Cody Asche will be the left fielder of the future (perhaps), so what will we see happen with Revere? With Dominic Brown being placed in his original right field position, it seems by Ruben Amaro himself, that doesn’t leave much room for Revere to get much playing time. We haven’t even mentioned Darin Ruf, who could be used mostly to platoon at first base for Ryan Howard but has played more in left than he has there. That leaves Sizemore and Francoeur.
The two veteran outfielders have arguably been the weakest points in the Phillies outfield this year. Sizemore is hitting .226 in 24 games and 53 at bats through Sunday. Jeff Francoeurs’ .219 batting average is worse, but he has somehow found value in Sandberg’s eyes at the cleanup spot when Ryan Howard is not available. Grady Sizemore has played center field 873 games over 9 seasons of his career, and although he would have some proving to do, he could offer relief at the position.
All that said, Herrera’s move to the infield may come down the road, but behind Chase Utley is only Cesar Hernandez to play second base. I’d like to see the Phillies show Herrera’s versatility, especially in a rebuilding year, and possibly move him around a bit. But, only if the Phillies (or Utley himself) believe that Utley is completely finished and they somehow find a better alternative for centerfield.