CLEARWATER, Fla. - Before anyone was scheduled to be dressed, out of the clubhouse, and on one of the six diamonds at the Carpenter Complex, Odubel Herrera was among three players patrolling the rightfield corner of Bright House Field.
Herrera and two outfield veterans, Domonic Brown and Grady Sizemore, took turns running into the corner to retrieve baseballs. Some caromed off the side wall, some were launched into the corner, others came right at them.
Herrera, who has never played rightfield in six minor league seasons, and has only played leftfield 13 times, handled the assignment with relative ease. After Sizemore and Brown retreated into the clubhouse, the 23-year-old Venezuelan remained, working with two instructors in centerfield, too.
Herrera entered the Phillies organization 2 months ago having played in 610 minor league games since 2009. But he made outfield appearances in just 15 of those games.
"The first day [out there], I wasn't feeling that good," Herrera said through infielder and helpful translator Andres Blanco before his extra work yesterday morning. "It's something I was getting little by little. With practice every day, I'll get better."
Herrera, one of two Rule 5 picks in camp along with lefthander Andy Oliver, is a favorite to break camp with the Phillies in 6 weeks. But it's not because of his eagerness to learn the outfield.
It's because he has won the batting title in each of the last two leagues he has played in.
"I feel great and was excited with the experience in the Venezuelan [Winter] League," Herrera said through Blanco. "I hit pretty good and I was excited to get three different titles: batting champ title, rookie of the year and MVP of the league."
After hitting .321 with a .373 OBP in 96 games with Frisco, the Texas Rangers' Double A affiliate in the Texas League, Herrera got even better this winter for the Tiburones de La Guaira in his home country. He batted .372 with a .432 OBP and a .988 OPS in 58 games.
Herrera's bat didn't slow down after he learned he was moving on from the Rangers to the Phillies in early December.
"I know J.D., when I talk to him, he asks me how [Herrera] is doing," Amaro said with a laugh, referring to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. "He's curious to see how things go."
As a Rule 5 pick, Herrera must be offered back to the Rangers for $25,000 if he is not on the Phillies' 25-man roster for the duration of the 2015 season. He'd also first have to clear waivers before going back to the Rangers; all 28 other teams could claim him and keep him under the same Rule 5 restrictions.
But it's worth wondering why Texas would have left Herrera unprotected in the first place, since he was coming off a batting title in the Texas League and had hit .294 with a .354 OBP in six minor league seasons.
"I think it was probably just a matter of their organization having so much depth in their system . . . you can only protect 40 guys," Amaro said. "They have a lot of ability in their system. I think it was more that than anything else."
If there's a knock on Herrera, who was a middle infielder in the Rangers system, it's that his proficient bat has lacked power for the majority of his pro career.
Herrera's .377 slugging percentage in six seasons makes him a near-clone of fellow Venezuelan and Phillies teammate Cesar Hernandez (.378 slugging percentage in eight minor league seasons). Of his 118 hits in 96 Double A games last season, only 22 went for extra bases; he has 13 home runs in 2,597 minor league plate appearances.
But this winter, Herrera managed to collect more extra-base hits in Venezuela (in 38 fewer games) than he did last summer. Herrera had 23 extra-base hits, including six home runs.
He had never hit more than five home runs in any of his six seasons in the Texas system. So is the power here to stay?
"Yeah," he said.
How much more does Odubel have?
"You're going to see," Herrera said.
Herrera does not lack for confidence.
Generously listed at 5-11, Herrera has a commanding presence in the clubhouse despite knowing just two people before arriving in camp: Blanco and fellow Venezuelan Freddy Galvis. He's not hiding out, wondering if he'll still be around in 2 months; he has a near-permanent smile under his dreadlocked hairstyle.
He bounces from one assignment to the next in camp.
"He's been the talk of camp," said Mike Ondo, the Phillies' director of pro scouting. "He's shown a lot of bat speed and a willingness to learn - so far, so good."
"He doesn't look intimidated," Amaro said. "He isn't shy about getting after it. He's really worked very hard in the outfield, with what we've asked. We'll see how this stuff translates in games."
Herrera is expected to play all three outfield positions when games begin next week, while getting the occasional look at second base, too. When the season begins, Herrera's path to playing time would likely coming in leftfield, where Sizemore and Darin Ruf are the early favorites for the job.
If he can continue to hit as he has in the last 10 months, the Phillies would almost have to find a place for him to play.
"He's fun to watch in these workouts, he's shown a lot of tools," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He's been one of the early bats, going back to the early camp that was going on, swinging the bat. He's coming off a very good winter ball, so that had something to do with it. A lot of energy. He's shown some good skills in the outfield . . . he's moving good out there. He's shown a lot as a young player. He's opening up a lot of eyes."