OBSERVE El Torito in his natural habitat; bat soaring from his hand on its migration to the ground several feet away. As The Good Phight’s chief Odubel Herrera scholar, I can surmise that this flip may have occurred on anything from a three-run home run to a garbage time walk. It’s literally impossible to tell.
At the start of the season, Herrera and Maikel Franco were generally considered two players who would have jobs in Phillies uniforms in the long term future. The assumption was that the Rangers had been souring with envy after the Phillies snatched the brash, fun outfielder always willing to help an umpire with a ball/strike call out of the Rule 5 junkyard in 2015. He outperformed expectations and proved a fine catch from the wide net cast by this front office as it fished for new, young talent. It would take more than a bruised finger suffered during a headfirst slide during the preseason to keep him off the field, he indicated with a hearty guffaw.
When asked if he will play when the season starts, Herrera laughed.
"Of course," he said.
In 2016, he had the task of meeting the bar he'd set the previous season by hitting .297/.344/.418 with 30 doubles, three triples, eight home runs, and 16 stolen bases in 24 tries. By the end of this year, he was one of four Phillies with 40+ XBH, most of which came against right-handed pitching. In fact, Herrera maintained his hovering around-.300 batting average this season, but only against right-handed pitchers... southpaws had him largely flummoxed with a .236 BA and .599 OPS. Nevertheless, he came out of the gate searing with early season heat, logging at least one hit in all but four of the Phillies’ games in April.
After a 4-for-5 performance on May 12, Herrera was hitting .339, but things started to down turn and by the time of his deserved (and pretty much only realistic Phillies candidate for an) all-star appearance, he was down to .294 and went 7-for-32 with 9 SO (Two SO per game for four games straight) in the week before his trip - by himself - out west to Petco Park to represent the Phillies.
We all waited to see where Herrera's bat would land in the Pacific Ocean, but his appearance in the Midsummer Classic was largely uneventful. I believe he caught a fly ball at one point. Regardless, Juan Samuel was notably concerned that Herrera would return from San Diego with a briefcase full of sunglasses so he could put on a fresh pair every time he slung some ‘tude.
Phillies coach Juan Samuel, who works with the outfielders, plans to have Herrera, coming off his first All-Star experience, out on the field at 3:30 p.m. for early work.
"That’s something I want to continue to do," Samuel said. "I just don’t want things to get to his head and think he’s already got it. He doesn’t."
The city of Philadelphia braced itself for Herrera’s return. Would he be cutting in front of us at coffee shops? Swerving in front of us to gape at car accidents? Slapping everyone trying to board his subway car? We don’t abide a cocky player in this town; they remind us of how much potential we had when we were young, before we gave up on our dreams and inherited our fathers’ spots on the cheesesteak assembly lines. So this was clearly a good focal point for Herrera’s second half.
On July 20, he was hitting .182 since the end of June. Pete Mackanin muttered something about Herrera maybe "relaxing" after his goal of making the NL All-Star team was achieved. But it wasn’t just at the plate where Herrera was scuffling, because the next day, this happened.
That was 33-year-old catcher Jeff Mathis’ fourth career triple and the only one he’d hit all year. A few miscues later, Samuel dragged Herrera out to center field in late August for some of that early work he'd talked about. Rumors surfaced that Herrera's future may be in a corner outfield spot. He was benched by Mackanin for a couple days and trade talk appeared in the headlines - though it seemed that if the Phillies had wanted to capitalize on his value, they had waited too long. Very little went right, though Herrera did explode a Mets fan’s expensive beer all over his terrible jersey.
Herrera’s numbers declined until about mid-September, when he dragged them back up enough to finish the year with a slash line of .286/.361/.420, 15 HR, 6 3B, and 25 SB in 32 attempts (By comparison, Cesar Hernandez was 17-for-30 on the bases). The 24-year-old’s season certainly sagged in the middle, and being young and cocksure maybe had something to do with it. Who knows, we’re not in his head. We can only imagine what’s going on in there. I'm imagining a carnival that is also a giant rave.
Look, it would have been amazing if Herrera had hit .300 all year, joined the 20-home run hitters on this team, and been an accurate outfielder every time the ball came his way. But he slumped and he flailed and he struck out 56 times in 57games at one point; when he did well, we dreamed of the future, when he did poorly, there was talk of sending him out of town. This is all sounding more and more classically "us," isn't it?
Herrera hinted he might play winter ball after playing in 159 games this season, so the guy's probably exhausted. He didn't even get a break over All-Star weekend. He assured everyone that he would be working "harder than last year" in an effort to replicate his first half success from this season. The truth is, he went through a rough patch; but the same truth is that he was the only all-star representative on a rebuilding team at 24 years old. The arrivals of Aaron Altherr, Roman Quinn and Nick Williams will keep everybody on their toes out there, but I remain steadfast in my belief that Herrera remains one of the more exciting Phillies of the future.
Given his energy levels during a regular season game, I would love to see him sprint in from center after capturing a wild card or get his bat stuck in a passing satellite after a clutch September walk-off. There is a lot of talent in that 5' 11" frame, and with the right formative practices, the guidance of a doting coaching staff, and the general development that can define the years following a promising rookie campaign, there's no reason to doubt that 2016 will be the second of many years of Odubel Herrera darting around the outfield of Citizens Bank Park while we all make "bull" gestures in the stands.