Every team has one. The player who approaches every at bat like it’s his last and is as excited to draw a walk as he is to hit a grand slam. It’s usually not the most talented player but one who sets the tone for the team and opposing pitchers hate to face.
That player for the Phillies is Odubel Herrera.
He wasn’t a top draft pick or a coveted free agent signing, but instead a player the Phillies took a chance on, selecting him from Texas in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft.
That chance has since paid off with his five-year extension signed Thursday.
In a period where there isn’t much for fans to cheer about let alone fill Citizens Bank Park for 81 games, Herrera has provided excitement and energy to a team in transition. The hyped prospects aren’t quite ready to make the next step and the young pitching staff is still adjusting to the big leagues, but Herrera has produced two promising seasons, hitting a combined .291/.353/.419.
Herrera went into the 2015 season as an unknown quantity in center field, having only played second base in the Rangers’ system. In just two seasons, Herrera has adapted to his new position and was even named a Gold Glove finalist in 2016. There’s no doubt that at times he definitely showed this was only his second year playing center field, but Herrera has shown improvement and his speed enables him to cover a lot of ground.
His enthusiastic bat flips when he hits a home run – or a long fly ball – and his signature bullhorn sign when he reaches safely on an infield hit is stuff most fans love – and opposing teams hate. (Case in point, my three-year old cousin named his Elf on the Shelf Odubel this Christmas.)
In addition to his exciting play, Herrera embraces the city and its fans, both at the ballpark and on social media. He is constantly sharing fans’ photos and can be found signing autographs before almost every home game.
Herrera’s approach to the game is critical for both a team in transition and a playoff-caliber team. He can show both fans and his teammates that a Tuesday night game in August when the team is 10 games back is just as important as Game 7 of the World Series.
We saw how impactful a player like Herrera can be on a competitive team. The 2008 championship team had stars in the likes of Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but it was players like Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth who provided the extra spark the team needed.
This winter, General Manager Matt Klentak had to decide whether to sell high after Herrera’s all-star season and add to their long list of prospects, or begin the next step of the rebuild by committing to one of their few proven players.
Yes, the Phillies still won’t be playing for the NL East title in 2017; they probably won’t even reach the .500 mark. But now the first piece of many in this rebuild is locked down and Klentak’s vision is getting a little less murky.
El Torito brings an excitement and spark to the ballpark that hasn’t been seen in quite some time. He is someone the fans can root for, and at his spot at the top of the lineup, can be the identity this team desperately needs.