Buried beneath the plethora of top-100 prospects who have made an impact at the major-league level this season—at last look the count was at roughly 87—is a remarkable season by a 23-year-old rookie, playing on a team that’s fighting for the first-overall pick in next year’s June draft, which has gone largely unnoticed. As a Rule 5 pick plucked from the Rangers over the winter, there was some thought in the spring that Odubel Herrera—who had no obvious defensive home—would have to be returned to Texas, with Chase Utley penciled in as the starter at second base and Ben Revere likely to be the starter in center field. After spending his time almost exclusively in the middle of the infield (playing in 411 games at second base, 135 at shortstop, and 11 in left field) while in the Rangers system, reaching Double-A last season, Herrera played 41 games in center field while playing winter ball in Venezuela and put up a .372/.432/.556 line to take home the league’s MVP honors.
The Phillies saw enough from Herrera in the spring and former manager Ryne Sandberg wisely chose to install him as the regular center fielder, moving Ben Revere to left. After coming out of the gate strong in April, when Herrera compiled a .301/.341/.422 line, he struggled over the next two months, posting an OPS of .522 in May and .662 in June. His overall first-half line of .268/.297/.398 (good for a wRC+ of 88) in 278 plate appearances quite obviously didn’t knock anybody’s socks off, but Herrera did add nine stolen bases and kept himself in the lineup by making the plays required in center field.
Herrera has rewarded the Phillies’ patience (exactly what a rebuilding team should have in spades) over the second half of the season by making the requisite adjustments at the plate that have led to him not just keeping his head above water, but to him getting penciled in near the top of the lineup by interim manager Pete Mackanin, who’s even given him sixteen starts as the Phillies’ no. 3 hitter. Over his last 163 plate appearances, spanning 45 games over the season’s second half, Herrera has clubbed his way to a .356/.407/.491 line, adding four home runs and five stolen bases. Add it all up and it equates to a 149 wRC+, which is good for 26th overall among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances since the All-Star break and has propelled his 112 season wRC+ to 15th among rookies using the same benchmark. Herrera has likely been helped by a .383 BABIP since the break, but his approach has vastly improved as well, as he’s doubled his walk rate (from 3.2 percent to 6.8 percent) and lowered his strikeout rate (24.5 percent to 20.3 percent) over the second half.
Herrera will almost certainly lose his middle-infield eligibility at the end of the year, but he’s still plenty valuable exclusively as an outfielder. He is currently ranked 34th among outfielders on ESPN’s Player Rater, appearing ahead of more notable names who have stayed healthy this season, like Gregory Polanco, Josh Reddick, Jay Bruce, and Avisail Garcia—all of whom appear in the next 10 spots below Herrera. Herrera’s value gets a bump in leagues that use positional designations and on-base percentage as a category, as he currently is a top-25 option among center fielders, appearing behind numerous players who might not attain center-field eligibility next season, such as Bryce Harper, Matt Kemp, Curtis Granderson, Jason Heyward, and Shin-Soo Choo.
Herrera’s performance this season has put him squarely in the running for the greatest inaugural campaign by a Rule 5 pick, and has established him as an option to monitor in dynasty leagues, but his value will ultimately be determined by just how much power he can develop. While Herrera has 26 doubles this season (the same amount as Jose Altuve and Brett Gardner), his eight home runs are the most that he’s hit since the five he totaled at High-A Myrtle Beach in 2012. Other than his first major-league home run off of Mark Melancon (a 380-foot blast), none have been cheapies, with the seven others checking in at an average of 413 feet. As Herrera matures, an output in the low double-digits may be within reach, and that combined with his speed (he averaged 25 steals in his four full minor-league campaigns) makes for an intriguing fantasy option for years to come.
We should recognize the good work by the Phillies in identifying Herrera as a hitter who could make the jump from Double-A, and he’s rewarded their patience after a few bumps in the road by compiling an eye-opening second half. In the year of the rookie, don’t forget about Odubel.