SAN DIEGO - With little outfield depth in the major leagues and upper levels of the minor leagues, the Phillies added a utility player with plus-offensive skills with their first of two selections in yesterday's Rule 5 Draft.
The Phillies selected Odubel Herrera with the ninth pick in the draft, the annual event that wraps up baseball's winter meetings. Later in the draft, they took 27-year-old lefthanded reliever Andrew Oliver.
"They were the two guys we wanted to get," said Mike Ondo, the Phillies' director of pro scouting.
Herrera, who turns 23 later this month, was viewed as a utility-infield type (mostly second base) until he began playing the outfield while in the Texas Rangers system last summer. One scout said yesterday that Herrera's best fit might be leftfield.
But the same scout - along with more than a couple of other people inside the Manchester Grand Hyatt - was very high on Herrera's bat.
Herrera hit .315 with a .383 OBP in 125 games between Class A Myrtle Beach and Double A Frisco in 2014. He also hit 19 doubles, five triples and two home runs, while going 21-for-31 in stolen-base attempts.
"We think we have something with the bat," Ondo said. "There is some excitement to this guy with the skill set. We're taking a chance on a young guy with a chance to hit and some speed. Obviously there is versatility, but the thing we're focusing on is the outfield."
Both Herrera and Oliver automatically go on the Phillies' 40-man roster. Per Rule 5 rules, they must stay on the active 25-man roster once the season begins or be offered back to their original team for half of the cost of the Rule 5 selection ($25,000).
In rebuild mode, the Phillies obviously think they have ample room to stash two young players with upside.
Although general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said this week the team plans to let Domonic Brown continue to develop as an everyday player, the Phillies' outfield lacked for regular production in 2014, and there are no guarantees for who will be populating the three positions in 2015. Marlon Byrd might be the odds-on favorite to be the next veteran traded away as the front office reshapes their roster this winter.
Herrera will get a chance to continue to show off his bat in spring training, and very likely, during the duration of the 2015 season, too.
"There is bat speed there," Ondo said. "We feel like we're taking a shot on a prospect."
While Herrera has yet to play beyond Double A, Oliver has some major league experience.
Oliver originally was drafted by the Detroit Tigers out of Oklahoma State in the second round of the 2009 draft. He ascended to the big leagues after only one calendar year in the Detroit minor leagues, but struggled when he arrived: 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA in five starts in 2010, 0-1 with a 6.52 ERA in two starts in 2011.
The 6-3 Oliver was traded to the Pirates organization two Decembers ago. Last year, he made the transition to becoming a full-time reliever.
Oliver went 3-4 with a 2.53 ERA and 13 saves in 48 appearances with Triple A Indianapolis. He struck out 85, but also walked 47 batters in 64 innings.
"We're excited about taking a chance on this guy," Ondo said. "Obviously, the walks are going to be one of the first things that stand out. But, you have two plus pitches coming with this guy: He's a lefthander at 94-97 [mph], and he has a slider he can get both-sided hitters out with."
Oliver replaces Antonio Bastardo - who was traded to the Pirates on Wednesday - as one of four lefthanded relievers on the 40-man roster. The others: Jake Diekman, Mario Hollands and Elvis Araujo.
The Phillies have had their shares of hits and misses in the Rule 5 draft, with Shane Victorino (two-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner) as the most recent success story and Michael Martinez (.495 OPS in three seasons with the team) as a less-than-successful story.
In the minor league portion of the draft, the Phillies lost three players: righthanders Delvi Francisco (Indians) and Kyle Simon (Rockies) and outfielder Peter Lavin (Dodgers).