Odubel Herrera promises to make Phillies’ investment in him look good

Odubel Herrera promises to make Phillies’ investment in him look good

Twenty-five months after the Texas Rangers left him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft, Odubel Herrera had a simple message for the team that signed him as a teenage baseball hopeful in Venezuela.

Thank you.

Herrera was all smiles as his five-year, $30.5 million contract extension with the Phillies was officially announced during a news conference at Citizens Bank Park on Friday.

He thanked his parents, his representatives and the Phillies for what he called a dream come true.

And he thanked the Rangers, whose decision to expose him to the Rule 5 draft in December 2014 led to his life-changing opportunity in Philadelphia.

“I trust my ability 100 percent,” Herrera said in Spanish. “I knew that the minute they didn’t put me on the roster, some other team would try to get me.

“And I thank the Rangers for helping me get that opportunity.”

Herrera’s story has been well-documented. He was a below-average defensive second baseman in the Texas system. The Rangers began using him in the outfield occasionally in the minors in 2014 and he made the switch to center field full-time that same year during the Venezuelan winter ball season. While playing for the La Guaira ball club, Herrera caught the eye of Jorge Velandia, that team’s general manager. Velandia is also a member of the Phillies' front office. He gave the Phillies a heads up on Herrera. Pro scouting director Mike Ondo and his staff beared down on Herrera and ultimately the Phillies selected him with the eighth pick in the Rule 5 draft two years ago.

Coming off a 2014 winter season where he was the Venezuelan league batting champion (.372), Herrera came to camp with the Phillies simply trying to stick with the club. He did more than that. He became the team’s opening day centerfielder and over two seasons has led the team in batting average (.291), OPS (.773), hits (314), runs (151), stolen bases (41) and total bases (452). He was the Phillies’ lone representative in the All-Star Game last July.

General manager Matt Klentak said he began thinking about signing Herrera to a long-term deal in the summer and began working on it with Herrera’s agents shortly before Thanksgiving. The Phillies were under no urgency to lock up Herrera as he would not have been eligible for salary arbitration until after next season and free agency until after the 2020 season. But Klentak saw an opportunity to gain cost certainty with an improving player that he wanted to build around. He used the word “investment” in talking about the decision to sign Herrera, who turns 25 on Dec. 29.

“Any time an organization signs a player to a five-year extension, there are a lot of contributing factors,” Klentak said. “In its simplest form, this boiled down to two things: What type of player Odubel is and what type of person Odubel is. 

“On the field, this guy can do just about everything. He can hit, he can run, he can play defense and he’s growing into some power. And as important as all these factors is he plays with energy. And for a young team like ours, with the culture we’re trying to build, that style of play that this young man produces on the field is something that’s very important to this franchise.

“We’ve gotten to know Odubel and his family over the last two years. He’s a hard worker and a good family man. He’s a great teammate. When we make this type of an investment, we want to make sure we invest in people like Odubel Herrera.”

Herrera’s contract breaks down this way:

There is a $1.75 million signing bonus and salaries of $1.25 million in 2017, $3 million in 2018, $5 million in 2019, $7 million in 2020 and $10 million in 2021. The team holds a pair of options at $11.5 million and $12.5 million for 2022 and 2023. The option can be bought out for $2.5 million after 2021. So the total value of the deal could be worth $52 million over seven years and in this baseball economy that could be a bargain if Herrera continues on his current track.

The Phils do take a risk that Herrera could level off as a player or become complacent. Klentak does not believe complacency will be a factor.

“We believe that what Odubel has demonstrated to us over the last couple of years with his work ethic and on-field abilities and energy level, this is a player that should not be affected by a contract like this,” Klentak said. “We strongly believe that. If we did not believe that, we would not have done this.”

Herrera promised to stay hungry.

“I am going to continue to play hard and do the things that could end up getting me another big contract in the future,” he said. "I am going to play hard, work hard and try to win."

Herrera will average $6.1 million over the next five seasons. He could have gambled on himself, put up some big numbers and made more than that had he said no to the Phillies’ offer.

But the son of a farmer from Venezuela opted for security.

“You never know when this opportunity is going to come again,” Herrera said. “It was a good chance to sign a deal and this opportunity only comes once. We decided to make the decision and sign the contract.”

Herrera slumped after making the All-Star team in 2016. He turned it on down the stretch, about the time center field prospect Roman Quinn arrived from the minors. At the time, there was speculation that the Phillies could entertain trade offers (at a high price) for Herrera this winter. 

“We have no intention today of trading Odubel Herrera,” Klentak said. “Candidly, we didn’t before this contract, either.”

It is worth noting, however, that Herrera’s new contract does not contain a no-trade clause and that could someday be valuable because the Phillies have a host of young outfield prospects, starting with Quinn, who could begin arriving in the majors as soon as 2017. Herrera has the flexibility to play all three outfield spots, but Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin, citing positive advanced metrics on Herrera’s work in center field, said he would stay at the position for the foreseeable future.

“If sometime down the road we have too many good centerfielders, that’s a good problem to have,” Klentak said.

Mackanin added, “The only problem I have with Odubel is whether to hit him first, second or third in the lineup.”

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

 

BOX SCORE

This is what the Phillies could look like some day, maybe in a year or two, when the rebuild has moved further down the road and the club is approaching contender's status.

Maikel Franco clubbed three hits, including a grand slam, and Vince Velasquez pitched his best game of the young season to lead the Phillies to a 7-4 victory over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

The win was the Phillies' fifth straight as they inched over the .500 mark at 10-9 and it offered a glimpse of the tantalizing tools of two of the team's most enigmatic young players — Franco and Velasquez. Both players are 24 years old. Both have had individual highs and lows in a Phillies uniform. Both have the ability to be cornerstone talents for the franchise — if they can put together more nights like this one.

"It's a long season and it doesn't happen overnight," said manager Pete Mackanin, acknowledging the ups and downs that each player has had in the early part of this season and before.

It was just last week that Franco was riding a career-worst 0-for-22 slump that dragged his batting average to .145.

On Wednesday night, he stroked three hits — he had two hard-hit singles to go with his grand slam — to push his average to .203, not good but moving in the right direction.

Even as he struggled, Franco continued to hit balls hard and produce runs. He now has 20 RBIs, which is just one shy of the NL leaders. He also has four homers, including two grand slams.

It's no secret that new hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to get Franco to stop pulling off the ball. From Day 1 of spring training, Stairs has had Franco working on driving the ball to the middle of the field. That's just what Franco did three times Wednesday night. His first hit, a single to center in the second inning, set the tone for his night. His grand slam came on a 2-2 fastball from lefty Wei-Yin Chen in the third inning.

"That was Matt Stairs' big rallying cry for Maikel — try to use the big part of the field and not pull everything," Mackanin said. "He still has it in him where he'll pull his head off the ball, but I think with his type of power, he can hit a ball to center field or right field out of the ballpark. Once that sinks in, he's really going to take off. He's starting to look a lot better." 

Two pitches before Franco lined the grand slam over the wall in left center, he lost his helmet while hacking at a slow breaking ball. It was the type of out-of-control swing that Stairs is trying to eliminate. Two pitches later, Franco gathered himself and hit the grand slam with a smooth swing.

That was progress.

And so is this: He's only lost his helmet on a swing one time this season.

"At the time, I just told myself, 'Calm down, relax, don't try to do too much. Just see the ball and put good contact on it,'" Franco said.

"I think last year I lost my helmet like 20 or 25 times," he added with a chuckle. "I'm working on it."

Velasquez is also working on things. He is trying to harness his power stuff and improve his economy of pitches so he can stay in games longer. He'd lasted just four, five and six innings, respectively, while running high pitch counts in his first three starts. He made some improvements in his last outing at New York last week and took another step forward in this one. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, scattered six hits and three runs, walked two and struck out three. The strikeout total was way down from the 10 he struck out in four innings in his first start of the season. But Mackanin was pleased with the results and the improved efficiency. Velasquez threw 97 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters and that was important to his success.

"Even though he's not striking people out like we know he can and will, he's using all of his pitches and he got us into that seventh inning, which was huge," Mackanin said. "I think he's trying to pitch to more contact and not trying to make perfect pitches and strike everybody out with perfect pitches.

"I think once he puts that all together, he'll have that total ensemble working for him and know when to pitch soft and when to throw hard. He's making good improvements."

And so are the Phillies as a group. They hit three home runs in the game and the bullpen did an excellent job, especially Joely Rodriguez and Joaquin Benoit, who combined on five outs (see story)

Five straight wins is nothing to sneeze at. The Phillies have suddenly become fun. They go for a sixth straight win Thursday.

Joely Rodriguez 'a real bonus' to Phillies' bullpen

Joely Rodriguez 'a real bonus' to Phillies' bullpen

Vince Velasquez might have had the best outing of his season Wednesday night, but the Phillies' bullpen delivered against a tough Miami Marlins lineup. 

Hector Neris nearly had a scoreless ninth inning until Adeiny Hechavarria whacked in a run off a single.

But Neris struck out Derek Dietrich swinging to end the game, 7-4, and extend the Phillies' winning streak to five games (see game story).

"We're going to continue to do the same thing we've been doing," relief pitcher Joely Rodriguez said. "We're not going to change nothing because we're doing well now."

Velasquez got the Phillies to the seventh inning, but manager Pete Mackanin pulled the right-hander once Hechavarria smacked a double that knocked in J.T. Realmuto to make the game 5-3.

Rodriguez replaced Velasquez to face Ichiro Suzuki. He retired Suzuki on a line drive to Maikel Franco and got another huge out on Dee Gordon to get the Phillies out of a squeeze late in the game.

"Joely has done a great job his last five outings, that's a real pleasant surprise," Mackanin said. "We knew that he had the ability to potentially do that. All he has to do with his stuff is throw strikes in the situations that he comes in. And he can be very effective as he should tonight. That's a real bonus for us."

In his past six games, including Wednesday night, Rodriguez has pitched six straight scoreless games. He also has a combined four strikeouts and threw less than nine pitches in four of those games.  

Prior to the six-game streak, Rodriguez gave up a combined seven runs and 10 hits in four appearances, but he said he's been working on his mechanics.

"I have more confidence to throw the ball to home plate with my glove in the chest," Rodriguez said. "That helped me a lot to throw the ball and have a more consistent strike zone." 

Even with Rodriguez getting the Phillies out of the seventh inning, they still had to overcome the Marlins' top of the lineup in the eighth. Miami ranks seventh in the majors in runs per game with 4.78. 

Giancarlo Stanton was just starting to find his swing entering the game. The Marlins' cleanup hitter was 9 for 17 over his last four games, including four homers and seven RBIs. 

But when he faced Joaquin Benoit in the top of eighth, Stanton grounded out to Freddy Galvis to retire the side. Stanton was 0 for 3 on the night in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, while Benoit threw five strikes on eight pitches in the eighth. 

"We are a group in the bullpen," Rodriguez said. "We talk to each other, support each other and do the best we can when we go to the mound and try to help the team get a win."