It feels like a long time ago former Phillies manager Pete Mackanin opined that Odubel Herrera could win a batting title one day. Mackanin said that in early 2017, after Herrera made the All-Star team as a second-year player.
In those first two big-league seasons, Herrera hit .291/.353/.419. His OPS was 10 percent better than the league average.
In the two seasons since, Herrera has hit .268/.318/.436. His OPS was 2 percent below the league average. He's hit for more power, but he's given away far more plate appearances, he hasn't been selective at the plate like he was in early 2016, and the head-scratching plays in the field and on the basepaths added up.
By the end of 2018, given the performances of Herrera and Roman Quinn plus the uncertainty of the offseason, many wondered how much longer Herrera would be a Phillie.
Well, Herrera is still a Phillie and still factors into their opening day plans. Perhaps that changes if the Phils end up with Bryce Harper and need to subtract an outfielder from a group that already includes Herrera, Quinn, Andrew McCutchen and Nick Williams, but as of now, Herrera is set to play a key role for the 2019 Phillies.
And the organization likes what it has seen from Herrera since a direct conversation took place when last season ended.
On 97.5 The Fanatic Wednesday morning, Phillies GM Matt Klentak shared some details about the end-of-year meeting he and manager Gabe Kapler had with Herrera.
"When [Kapler] needs to, he gets in their face and tells them we need to be better than that. I hate to single out players but I'll do it — at the end of last year, we sat down with Odubel Herrera. I happened to be in on these meetings too.
"And we said that what happened this year, with the shape you came into camp, that cannot happen again. You have to take this seriously and be better.
"And you know what Odubel has done all offseason? He's worked his butt off in Miami with personal trainers, he's kept in touch with our strength group all winter, and he reported to Clearwater right after New Year's and he's been there already for about a month getting ready. We're seeing highlights of him in the cage and in the weight room every day.
"That's Kap's leadership style. He addresses it, gets his point across and gets results. Sometimes that's not going to be public."
Every team has a slew of players that enter spring training "in the best shape of their life." The cliche has become a running joke in the sports world, with Hardball Talk even compiling a list of all the players to report to camp in the best shape of their lives.
In Herrera's case, it could be meaningful. It's not that he was Prince Fielder in 2018, but he did have a bit of a gut, if we're keeping it real. In a room full of normal humans, Herrera would be in great shape. In a room full of professional athletes, less so.
The speed component of Herrera's game in 2018 was mostly gone. He stole five bases in 148 games. Two years earlier, he stole 25. It would be nice for the Phillies to again have that element of Herrera's game. If he's batting sixth or seventh, it would give the bottom of the lineup some energy and a runner capable of reaching scoring position by himself after a single.
Herrera, even in a down year in 2018, still displayed his knack for being a bad-ball hitter. He still sprayed the ball around when he was going well, and his career-high 22 home runs (seven more than his previous high) should not be overlooked.
The Phillies just need Herrera to be fitter and faster, with better reactions in the outfield and a combination of the skills he showed in his first two years and last two years. If they can get the added plate selection, consistency and willingness to steal bases from Herrera's first two years and combine it with his increased power the last two seasons, they'll have a very good 27-year-old outfielder.
He's not a guy you build a contending team around, but Herrera has the talent to be a valuable player if he's the fourth- or fifth-best piece in a lineup.
The Phillies like what they've seen so far, but what matters most is how Herrera begins his regular season. The best month of Herrera's career was April 2016, when he hit .313 and walked 23 times for a .462 on-base percentage. He was locked in and laying off pitches high or off the plate. He doesn't need to replicate that exactly, but it would sure be nice to see his plate appearances reach a similar quality.
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