Oh to be a Rule 5 pick on a team with a below average Major League roster.
Outfielder Odubel Herrera and left-handed reliever Andy Oliver are both making the most of an opportunity to make the Major League roster of what appears to be a team that is a bit short on talent.
Which, of course, is to their benefit. But just because the Phillies appear to be headed for a rebuilding year in 2015 shouldn't take away from the quality of work both players have shown so far down in Florida. As of now, it's impossible to see how both Herrera and Oliver don't both head north with the Phils when they host the Red Sox for the season opener in Philadelphia.
Neither player had their best game of the spring in Sunday's 7-6 loss to the Red Sox. Herrera went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored, although he misplayed a couple fly balls in center field, turning a Mookie Betts would-be-triple into an inside-the-park home run. Of course, Herrera has not played much center field, and the smart money is on him being a corner outfielder once the regular season starts.
Oliver pitched 1.2 innings and gave up two runs on three hits with three strikeouts and a walk. However, those were the first runs Oliver has given up so far this spring, sporting a nifty 2.16 ERA in five appearances. In 8.1 innings pitched, Oliver has struck out 16 and walked just three, eye-popping numbers to be sure, while giving up just a .167 batting average to opponents.
Herrera has been a hit machine for most of the spring, batting .368 with a .415 on-base percentage in 38 spring at-bats, fourth-most on the team. He is 14-for-38, although just one of those hits is for extra bases (a double) and he has walked only twice so far this spring. And while he has stolen four bases, he has been picked off twice as well.
The good news is, the Phillies are not battling for a playoff spot this year. If they were, they might not be able to see Herrera through the growing pains that a 23-year-old might experience in his first extended playing time. The Phils can afford to be patient, because it seems clear Herrera has an idea what to do at the plate, and has speed to burn on the bases.
As for Oliver, he's 27 and has been around the block a bit. He was a top-100 prospect according to Baseball America before the 2011 season, but struggled with his control throughout his minor league career as a starter. Pittsburgh moved him to the bullpen last year and, while he walked 6.6 batters per nine in 64 innings of work, he also averaged 12 strikeouts per nine and posted a career best 2.53 ERA.
So far this spring, the control has been better than anyone could have hoped for. And with Mario Hollands hurting with a strained elbow, Oliver stands to become the second lefty in the bullpen if he can continue to do what he's been doing.
This year, the Phils have a chance to have two Rule 5 players not only start the season with the team, but also finish it. Both will have to play well enough to stick around a Major League roster, because neither player can be sent to the minors without being offered back to their original team first.
If the spring is any indication, it appears the Phillies won't have to do that.