CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even by the Odubel Herrera standard of inconsistency, it ranked as a first-ballot selection for the Bizarro Baseball Hall of Fame.
Eight weeks into last season, on May 23, Herrera stood with a handful of baseball’s best players, batting .343 and slugging .535 with seven home runs in 172 at-bats and reaching base in all but one of 46 games. But in the four months that followed, he was one of the majors’ worst hitters, batting .214 and slugging .368 with 15 homers in 378 at-bats and reaching base at a .265 clip.
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Herrera’s explanation: “There definitely were times,” he said Friday through a team translator, “when I knew I could have focused more.”
OK, why the lapses in concentration?
“I don’t really know,” said the center fielder, who later noted that it can be difficult for him to maintain his focus over six months and 162 games.
Regardless, it’s clear by now, after four seasons with the Phillies and two years after signing a $30.5 million extension, that Herrera needs to be pushed more than most players. Juan Samuel used to do the pushing, but the former all-star second baseman and longtime coach wasn’t retained last season when Gabe Kapler brought in a new coaching staff.
In a departure from his typically sunny-side-up outlook, Kapler publicly challenged Herrera at the end of last season to report to spring training in better shape. And the Phillies put an infrastructure in place to help him do that.
Herrera adopted a more regimented training program at a training facility in Miami, where he worked out daily with future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. Kapler and new Phillies outfield coach Paco Figueroa visited in early December to make certain he was sticking to it. Kapler said Friday that Figueroa was hired away from the Los Angeles Dodgers in November in part to work closely with Herrera.
“He’s known for developing relationships with Spanish speakers, and he’s known for his ability to ask for a little bit more and get somebody to step up and meet that bar,” Kapler said of Figueroa. “The relationship that Odubel and Paco develop will be very important this season.”
At the Phillies’ request, Herrera reported to the Carpenter Complex in mid-January. He appears trimmer, although he said he won’t know for sure until he weighs in with Phillies trainers this weekend after position players report to camp. Asked how many pounds he thinks he lost, Herrera laughed and said, “Maybe 20?”
And Kapler, perhaps as a way of motivating Herrera, isn’t making any guarantees about playing time, claiming that Herrera will compete in spring training with Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr for at-bats in center field and right field.
Indeed, Herrera’s best motivation might come from within the clubhouse. Quinn infused the lineup with speed, quality defense and overall energy after getting called up midway through last season, ultimately taking at-bats from Herrera. If Herrera starts slowly or descends into another long-term slump, it could happen again.
“It’s not necessarily that Roman is on the team or that I lost some playing time last year,” Herrera said. “It’s more about me getting better as a baseball player. I understand this year there is more competition, and honestly I think it makes me better when I have competition around me. It gets the best out of me because I know I have to play better.”
Herrera has been streaky, maddeningly so at times for the Phillies, throughout his career. But despite his frequent hot streaks and cold spells, he typically finishes with the same numbers. In four big-league seasons, his on-base plus slugging percentage has ranged from only .730 to .781. And his .763 career OPS ranks ninth among all center fielders since 2015.
That’s not ideal if Herrera is the No. 3 hitter in the lineup for a contending team. But the offseason addition of J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen — and the lingering possibility that Bryce Harper or Manny Machado will follow — has made the Phillies offense deeper than at any other point in Herrera’s career.
“I’m definitely motivated,” Herrera said. “This is practically a new team. There’s better talent here, new faces. If I can help out in any way, that will be great.
"My mentality is that I’m still the center fielder. All that I can control is the work that I put in on the field. The rest is up to the front office and the staff. They make the decisions.”
Surely, though, Herrera can make it easier on them by controlling the way he prepares and plays.
“You don’t have to worry about that part,” he said.