Brookover: Odubel Herrera on his way to being best Rule 5 pick in Phillies history

Brookover: Odubel Herrera on his way to being best Rule 5 pick in Phillies history

Brookover: Odubel Herrera on his way to being best Rule 5 pick in Phillies history

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Baseball’s Rule 5 draft is a flea market in which teams go looking for real furs, and over the years the Phillies have been pretty good at finding them.

There was the Dave Hollins minx in 1989. The Phillies plucked him off San Diego’s roster with the 16th selection in that year’s Rule 5 draft, 13 picks after they had taken the nondescript Sil Campusano. Hollins went on to play parts of seven seasons for the Phillies, making an all-star team in 1993 while also playing a major role for the 1993 National League championship team.

He was probably the Phillies’ best Rule 5 pick ever until 2004, when the club selected the Shane Victorino rabbit fur off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ roster. Had the Dodgers not declined a chance to take the Flyin’ Hawaiian back at the end of spring training 12 years ago, one of the great success stories in Philadelphia would not have unfolded.

Instead, there’s a Boys and Girls Club in Nicetown with Victorino’s name on it and a second World Series trophy at Citizens Bank Park that probably would not have been possible without the two-time all-star’s contributions.

Victorino remains the leader in the Phillies’ Rule 5 clubhouse of stars, but there’s a coyote on his heels. No Rule 5 pick in Phillies history has ever had a better first two years than Odubel Herrera, which is why “El Torito” already has been rewarded with a five-year contract worth $30.5 million.

As the Phillies went through a recent workout on the fields at the Carpenter Complex, former manager Charlie Manuel was asked to compare Victorino and Herrera. Understandably, he has a deep affection for the Flyin’ Hawaiian, the centerfielder on Manuel’s 2008 World Series championship team.

But in terms of natural ability, Manuel leaned toward Herrera because of his uncanny knack for squaring up baseballs that should not even be humanly possible to hit. Phillies third-base coach and outfield instructor Juan Samuel marveled over that same quality.

“I haven’t seen a whole lot of guys like him who can look bad on a pitch and swing and still hit it with authority,” Samuel said. “Those kinds of guys are special to me.”

Vladimir Guerrero was arguably the greatest bad-ball hitter ever, cracking line drives on balls that bounced in the dirt around home plate. Herrera, with a smile that lights up and energizes the Phillies clubhouse on a daily basis, admits that he surprises even himself sometimes on pitches he has no business hitting.

“I think it’s just an instinct,” the 25-year-old Venezuelan said through team interpreter Diego Ettedgui. “It’s an ability that God gave me. No one taught me that.”

Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis, a fellow Venezuelan, said Herrera is a natural hitter and there is truth to that. But his ability goes beyond being natural.

“Yes, he has great hands and a lot of his ability is natural ability,” Samuel said. “But he also has an idea of what he wants to do at the plate. Last year I’d hear him talk about things. He’d say, ‘I’m going to do this next time up. I’m going to look for this, just wait and see the next at-bat.’ And then he’d go up and do it.”

Thanks to a more selective approach at the plate, especially early last season, Herrera’s walk total increased by 35 from his rookie season and his on-base percentage jumped 17 points to .361. He also hit 15 home runs, seven more than his rookie season, and stole 25 bases, nine more than his rookie season, while also being thrown out one fewer time. His 11 outfield assists ranked fourth in the National League.

Herrera, of course, also made his first all-star team last season, and next month he’ll get a chance to represent Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, perks that go only to the game’s elite.

“I’m very excited to represent my country,” Herrera said. “Also I’m very excited to play with superstars like Miguel Cabrera and Jose Altuve.”

The Phillies are excited because they believe they may have selected a priceless fur at the Rule 5 flea market in December 2014. You don’t give out five-year contracts to 25-year-old players based on what you previously saw from them. You give them to players you believe are going to get better.

“I think there is still room for improvement in every part of his game,” Samuel said. “Obviously the guy has shown he can hit, but I think probably hit better than he has. I think he’s a .300 hitter.”

Manuel said he is sure Herrera is a .300 hitter.

“On defense, he still has a lot of work to do,” Samuel said. “He’s capable of becoming a Gold Glover. It’s just a matter of getting him more comfortable and more repetitions and making him stay focused. I think sometimes he loses his concentration.”

Herrera made five errors last season, a high number for a centerfielder.

“I think some of them were careless and not respecting baseball,” Samuel said. “It’s a matter of getting him to understand we have to play every inning and every at-bat. His whole game can still be refined. I think he can steal 30 bases. Will he do it this year? I don’t know, but he’s capable of doing it.”

After his strong second season, Herrera got a chance to enjoy life a little back in his native country. He used some of the money from his new contract to buy a new SUV and he said he also planned to help his father, Odubel Sr., expand the dairy farm in San Jose, Venezuela, where the family also grows guava and passion fruits.

“This offseason was a little different because people started to recognize me more,” Herrera said. “They were more familiar with my face and they started to congratulate me a lot, too, because of my contract. That felt good.”

Samuel and manager Pete Mackanin will spend spring training reminding Herrera that there is work to be done. The good news for the Phillies is that Herrera loves the work and is determined to raise his level of play.

“Today I had him out there doing early work,” Samuel said after Thursday’s workout. “I wanted him out there the first day he arrived and he was. I don’t want him thinking he’s already got it and he’s tremendous. He wasn’t scheduled to do extra work and I said, ‘What are you doing today?’ He said, ‘You want me out there? Let’s go.’ He’s always available. It doesn’t matter when – spring training or during the season – he’s always available. He knows we need to stay focused and stay grounded.”

Natural talent combined with a solid work ethic has already made Herrera an all-star. When it’s all said and done, it should also make him the greatest Rule 5 pick in a Phillies history that has been filled with some really good ones.

bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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Published at Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:42:49 +0000

Categories: Phillies

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