There aren’t many everyday players around the league with a more lackluster background than Odubel Herrera’s. He was signed out of Venezuela as an international amateur free agent by the Rangers back in 2008. If you want to get an idea of how under-the-radar he was at this point, a decently thorough Google search didn’t return a value on his signing bonus. After joining the Rangers organization, he slowly made his way through the system by putting up some solid but mostly unspectacular numbers. By the time the 2014 season ended, he had yet to make it above Double-A, but he was still taken by the Phillies in the ensuing Rule 5 draft. It ended up being one of the better Rule 5 picks in recent memory, as Herrera surprised everyone by not only sticking on the active roster all year but putting up solid across-the-board numbers all while shifting from the infield to center field. Heading into 2016, it was all about proving he wasn’t a one-year wonder.
What Went Right in 2016
In terms of fantasy, one could argue that just about everything went right for Herrera in 2016, as any thought that his rookie year was just a fluke was quickly tossed aside. He continued to hit for a high average, falling off only slightly from 2015 and still managing a .286 AVG. To counteract that small decline, the lefty showed off more power, jumping from eight homers in his rookie year to 15 in his sophomore season. To put the cherry on top, he started to show off more of his speed by swiping 25 bags to finish 18th in all of baseball. Basically, he got better in just about every area compared to his out-of-nowhere 2015.
Digging a little bit deeper, the most encouraging part of Herrera’s 2016 was how much he improved his plate discipline. After walking just five percent of the time in his rookie year while striking out in almost a quarter of his plate appearances, he came out last year with rates of 10 and 20 percent, respectively. It was a huge leap in the right direction, and allowed him to increase his OBP by 17 points despite a 38-point decrease in BABIP. Although he’s still an aggressive hitter, he did a much better job of putting his bat on the bad pitches, which helped lower his strikeout rate considerably.
Speaking of that BABIP, even though it fell from his ridiculous .387 he still managed a .349 mark in 2016. It was the 17th-highest mark among qualified batters, and it gave credence to the idea that Herrera could be a high BABIP player. It makes sense as you look more at it, too. Not only is he quite fast on the base paths, but he also peppers line drives and grounders all over the field. This makes it very tough for defenses to shift against him and gives him more lanes through which to gets hits. This skill should keep his AVG and OBP high even if he takes a step back in terms of plate discipline.
What Went Wrong in 2016
Honestly, not all that much went wrong for Herrera last year, at least when compared to his expectations. Like I said, he is still an aggressive hitter and kept swinging at bad pitches. There’s always the possibility that will catch up to him sooner or later, but it certainly didn’t last year.
If you want to pick some nits, some may be looking for more power out of their outfield spots. Herrera’s 15 was a respectable total, but he may not have a much higher ceiling. It certainly helps that his home games come in a hitter’s park, but he’s always going to be more of a doubles and triples hitter than a home run slugger. He also only finished with 49 RBI, but that’s what happens when you hit atop a bad lineup.
What to Expect in 2017
At this point, you can expect more of the same with a little bit more upside. The AVG is going to remain solid with a floor around .275 and the potential to be well above .300. He showed the ability to reach double-digit home runs and even if the ceiling might not be huge there, he combines that with the ability to steal 25+ bases. When you add that to an improving Phillies team that should help his runs and RBI totals, you have one of the more solid OF2/OF3 candidates in the draft.
The Great Beyond
Herrera is one of my favorite dynasty targets this offseason, as his contributions to date have been slightly muted thanks to playing on a rebuilding roster. That’s something to take advantage of, since he’s just entering his age-25 season. As a player who is just entering his prime on a rising team that plays in a hitter’s park, Herrera may never have better value than he has this spring.