Free Dilson Herrera

A cornucopia of promising young hitters lost their rookie eligibility over the course of the 2015 season. Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor and Kyle Schwarber are just a few of the most notable names. Each of them were consensus top prospects, and each looks primed to have an excellent big league career.

However, there was another youngster who eschewed his rookie eligibility with much less fanfare, yet whose future may be nearly as bright — at least according to the stats. As you probably deduced from the title of this piece, that player is Mets second baseman Dilson Herrera. Herrera’s minor league performance yields a KATOH forecast of 10.1 WAR over the next six years. Were he still prospect eligible, he would have landed 12th on KATOH’s top 100.

Herrera doesn’t look the part of a future All-Star. He’s listed at just 5-foot-10 (which means he’s probably even shorter than that), and by most accounts, doesn’t have the defensive chops to play shortstop. He also lacks the loud physical tools of a Bryant or Correa. Heading into the season, erstwhile lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel rated all of Herrera’s tools very close to average. Herrera’s hit tool received the best FV with 55 on the 20-80 scale, while he projected his game power and arm to remain below-average (45). Guys with merely average tools don’t generally populate prospect lists.

But what Herrera lacks in tools, he’s made up for in performance. Herrera clobbered minor league pitching in each of the past two seasons. In 2014, he hit .323/.379/.479 with 23 steals between High-A and Double-A. Last year, he followed it up with a .331/.384/.515 showing in Triple-A. He held his own in 103 plate appearances with the Mets as well, posting a 92 wRC+. That’s an encouraging statistical track record, but the stats themselves aren’t what make Herrera so compelling. It’s his age that makes his profile really pop.

Herrera turns 22 on Thursday. He spent all of last season as a 21-year-old, making him one of the youngest players in Triple-A last year. Among hitters with at least 150 plate apearances in Triple-A last year, only top prospect Corey Seager and KATOH dreamboat Jose Peraza were younger than Herrera. Players who are that good that young are few and far between. And the history of such players is encouraging.

In the chart below, you’ll find the Mahalanobis Distance comps for Herrera’s Triple-A season and every Triple-A season since 1990 in which a hitter recorded at least 400 plate appearances.

Dilson Herrera’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj.WAR Actual.WAR
1 Wilton Guerrero 7.7 0.5
2 Jose Ortiz 7.4 0.3
3 Ronnie Belliard 6.0 10.7
4 Arquimedez Pozo 5.3 0.0
5 Joe Thurston 8.5 0.0
6 Ray Durham 5.4 9.4
7 Luis Castillo 6.2 17.4
8 Adam Kennedy 6.6 14.7
9 Luis Rodriguez 4.7 1.3
10 Quilvio Veras 6.2 11.4

As always, there are hits and misses here, but some of the hits turned out to be pretty good. Ronnie Belliard, Ray Durham, Luis Castillo, Adam Kennedy and Quilvio Veras were all quality everyday second basemen in their 20’s. Belliard, Durham Castillo were even (deservedly) All-Stars. The other half didn’t turn out so great, but even so, 5 out of 10 ain’t bad. I’m sure the Mets would be very happy if Herrera’s career arc mirrored Ronnie Belliard’s. Here’s a graphical look at these players’ careers.

With last year’s showing, Herrera proved he’s too good for the Triple-A level. All indications are that he’s ready for the show. Steamer and ZiPS both peg him for a 98 wRC+ this year, while the ever optimistic fans call for a 116 mark. League-average offense from a second baseman? That’s pretty darn valuable. However, the Mets don’t seem particularly eager to give their potentially valuable second baseman a shot.

Herrera wasn’t even a member of the Mets travel squad during last year’s playoffs. And when Chase Utley destroyed Ruben Tejada’s leg in the ALDS, they passed over Herrera in favor of Matt Reynolds. Reynolds had never played in the major leagues and was not even on their 40-man roster. Yes, that decision had a lot to do with Reynolds’ ability to play shortstop, where Herrera had little experience as a pro. But still: It speaks how little faith the Mets have in Herrera’s abilities, especially on defense.

Weeks later, the Mets had a gaping hole at second base following the departure of Daniel Murphy via free agency. They could have easily filled that hole with Herrera. Instead, they went out and got Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker, who join Herrera, Tejada, Reynolds, Wilmer Flores and emerging prospect Gavin Cecchini on the depth chart. With that many capable middle infield bodies in the mix, it’s hard to envision Herrera finding regular playing time without at least a couple of injuries taking place. He appears destined for an assignment to Triple-A Las Vegas come April.

Of course, just because the Mets aren’t willing to play Herrera right now, that doesn’t mean he isn’t part of their future. Perhaps they just think he needs a bit more seasoning. He’s still just 21, after all, and his .211/.311/.367 showing in Flushing last year suggests he’s still learning the finer points of hitting. But even so, Herrera has little left to prove in the minor leagues, and his high-contact approach figures to translate well to the highest level.

Herrera’s first taste of the big leagues was a little rough, but his offensive showing wasn’t half bad for a second baseman. It’s also worth noting that his time in the show was interrupted by a broken finger, which may have negatively affected his performance. Big league performance aside, everything about Hererra’s minor league track record suggests he’ll make for a very good second baseman. And his Triple-A numbers suggest he could be that as soon as this year. Whether he gets that opportunity remains to be seen.





Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Rob
Member
Rob

One of the reasons I am excited for this season and the next 2-3 seasons to come; the Mets have depth and they are versatile. I’m totally comfortable with Herrera spending the majority of this season in AAA IF management is perceptive to bringing him up if someone under-performs.

Also, rumors abound that Tejada may be traded if he has a poor/lackluster spring which would bump Herrera up a notch.

J. Peterman
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Member
J. Peterman

Tejada being traded does little for Herrera. All it does it remove a potential replacement for Walker if he hits the DL. Herrera only plays 2B and needs to be playing almost everyday. Being Walker’s backup or a pinch-hitter on the 25-man roster will only hinder his development at this point.

Rob
Member
Rob

That’s exactly what I meant. he’s really only going to come up if someone is injured. Tejada leaving would make him probably the first replacement. I’d rather he stay down the whole year then sit on the bench. But I would also hope if someone under-performs they wouldn’t be afraid to shake things up.

J. Peterman
Member
Member
J. Peterman

I’m excited for Herrera to get his shot. He has the tools to be a top tier 2B down the road. The problem is, whose underperformance leads to his playing time this year? It’s really only Walker. It’s not like if Asdrubal, Flores, or Tejada doesn’t produce they can slide Walker or Herrera to a new position.