Ok, so Javier Herrera is certainly not your traditional minor league “prospect,” but he’s put up impressive numbers in AA this year, and he’s a player I’m very intrigued by. So let’s take a closer look…
Javier Herrera: 28 yo, AA
HT, WT, B/T: 5-11 225 | RR
2013: 102 g, .302/.381/.495, 28 2b, 13 hr, 57 rbi, 18 sb/6 cs, 42 bb/86 k
Herrera is a 28 year-old outfielder who the Giants signed prior to the 2013 season. He’s been a professional baseball player for a very long time, signing with the A’s as an international free agent back in 2001. He’s battled some very significant injuries during his career, and has been out of minor league baseball entirely for multiple years at a time. At this point, the “minor league journeyman” label would certainly fit Herrera well. So why am I taking the time to look at him at all, you ask. Frankly, when you’re having the kind of season at the plate in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League that he is, you’re worth discussing in my opinion.
Herrera is a native of Caracas, Venezuela, and signed his first professional contract at the age of 16. He played in the Dominican Summer League in 2002, and made his US debut in the Arizona Rookie League in 2003 at age 18. He hit .230 in 18 games that summer, and the A’s sent him to Vancouver in the short-season Northwest League the following summer (2004). Herrera broke out in Vancouver, posting a .331 mark with 12 HR, and was only caught stealing once in 24 attempts. He also displayed impressive defensive abilities and a very strong outfield arm, and his performance earned him the #68 spot on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects heading into 2005.
Herrera’s first full season in professional ball saw him in Low-A Kane County, where he hit .274 with 13 HR and 26 SB in 94 games. The A’s must have been impressed, because they bumped him all the way to AAA for a brief stint at the end of the year. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .417 with a HR in 5 games with Sacramento. At this point, Herrera’s stock was at its peak. He entered 2006 as the #2 prospect in Oakland’s system and the #74 prospect in MLB. The A’s added him to the 40-man roster and gave him an invite to big league Spring Training. At 20 years-old, it appeared he was on the fast track to the majors…then everything came unraveled.
Herrera never made it to Opening Day in 2006, as it was announced at the end of Spring Training that he needed Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire season, and never made it back to Sacramento. In 2009, he was either released or injured (maybe both), and only logged 2 at-bats on the year. 2010 saw him in the short-lived independent Golden Baseball League, and he was out of baseball with hamstring issues in 2011. He was back in independent ball again last season, where he posted a combined .319/.397/.523 line with 14 HR and 78 RBI with two clubs in the Frontier League. Herrera’s tools impressed the Giants, who signed him to a deal in the offseason.
The Giants assigned Herrera to AA Richmond this year, where he’s put up consistent numbers at the plate all year. He’s posted an average of .298 or better each month, and had a 1.016 OPS in June. His first-half campaign earned him a spot in the Eastern League All-Star game, where he was named MVP after hitting a 3-run HR off Anthony Ranaudo in the first inning. He hasn’t hit as well since the break, but still owns a .299 average for the season, with 13 HR and 18 SB. In a lineup with guys like Andrew Susac, Joe Panik, Adam Duvall, and now slugger Angel Villalona, Herrera’s name is very easy to overlook in the box scores. However, he and fellow minor league journeyman Mark Minicozzi have been the Flying Squirrels’ best hitters by far this year. It makes sense, as Minicozzi is 30 and Herrera is 28, but there’s a big difference in the two veterans. While Minicozzi is a former 17th round pick of the Giants, Herrera was once a budding star.
Most observers might consider Herrera organizational filler, but there’s much more to his story. If you pull up his profile on Baseball America, you see a bevvy of Oakland’s organizational “best tools” selections from 2004 to 2008. During those years, Herrera was given multiple “best athlete,” “best outfield arm,” and “best defensive outfielder” honors in the system. When you see that, you can’t help but dream on the kind of player Herrera could have been (and maybe could still be). Health issues kept him out of minor league baseball for the past four years, but they didn’t scare off the Giants. If he can continue to produce in the difficult Eastern League, you’d have to think he’ll be in Fresno for next season.
In baseball, they say you never give up on tools. Herrera has certainly showcased his tools in Richmond this year, and may be turning into a nice resurrection story if he can stay healthy. The Giants have gotten contributions from so many castoff type players lately: Where would they be without the efforts of Arias, Blanco, Vogelsong, or Gaudin? Unlike these players, Herrera has never been to the big leagues. But he’s in an organization that needs outfield depth, and he seems to be in the prime of his career. If the Giants get desperate come September, and they don’t mind fiddling with the 40-man roster a little bit, I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see them take a chance on a guy who offers some pop, speed and defensive ability. Not to mention, one who’s out to show the world what he can do.