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July 05, 2016

Odubel Herrera, a 'born hitter,' named to N.L. All-Star team

Not long after they got a look at him – their scouting department in the Venezuela Winter League three offseasons ago, their coaching staff in spring training last year, everyone else the first month of last season – the Phillies knew Odubel Herrera could hit.

But early last season, after hitting .300 in his first month in the big leagues, the then-23-year-old Rule 5 pick fell into a troublesome slump. In a monthlong span from May 4 to June 5, Herrera hit .183 with 33 strikeouts and three walks in 99 plate appearances spanning 27 games.

“I remember (Phillies coach Juan) Samuel went up to him and said, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You going to be alright?’” manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday, recalling a conversation from a year earlier. “And (Herrera) looked at Samuel and said ‘What? Are you worried? I’m not worried.’ Sure enough he ended up hitting .298 or whatever the hell he hit. He’s just a born hitter.”

And now Odubel Herrera is an All-Star, too.

Herrera will represent the Phillies in San Diego at Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game a week from tonight (July 12, 8 p.m. EST) at Petco Park. Herrera is far from a token choice from a losing team, not a guy that is going to San Diego just because every big league team needs at least one All-Star representative.

The Phillies' high-energy center fielder entered Tuesday night eighth in the National League in hits (93) and in walks (43), and 12th in OBP (.390). Herrera, who entered Tuesday with a .303/.390/.443 slash line in 83 games this season, is only one of 11 major league players with double-digit totals in both home runs (10) and stolen bases (12) in 2016.

“First and foremost, he plays with energy,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “Anybody watching the games can see that. He's as excited to take a walk as anybody I have ever seen. He's also excited to hit a home run or hit a fly ball to left field. It's exciting to watch him play.

“We've seen his ability to barrel up the ball. He hit almost .300 last year. He's hitting .300 this year. We're starting to see him come into some power now, which is not uncommon that power would develop a little bit later.

“As important as anything, it's just been the way he's learned to control the strike zone. His walk rate compared to what it was a year ago or compared to what it was in the minor leagues is a really positive step. He's certainly developing into an impact player and we're happy he's on our club.”

Herrera already has 15 more walks and two more home runs this season than he finished with last season, in 64 fewer games. While the rest of the Phillies offense has only got started in the last few weeks, Herrera has been consistent at the plate since Opening Day, or really, since that aforementioned slump last year.

Entering Tuesday, Herrera was hitting .315 with a .391 OBP, .837 OPS, 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 155 games over the previous 365 days.

“He’s a special guy,” Mackanin said. “I call him a hit collector, he collects hits. I don’t know how he does it sometimes. He looks so bad at one at-bat and then the next three he gets hits. I think at one point, when we played the Cubs I think it was, they started pounding him inside and I think that kind of screwed his approach up a little bit so he kind of went into a little funk. Then he started making adjustments.

“He’s got the ability to make adjustments and like I always say, you can’t really teach hitting after you teach mechanics. Then it’s up to the player how they’re pitching to you, what you have to do to make adjustments, some guys can do it and some can’t. He makes adjustments during an at-bat. He’s just a pretty natural hitter because he doesn’t have an orthodox approach, really.”

The All-Star roster announcement came during the Phillies-Braves game on Tuesday night. Over the weekend, Herrera was asked about the possibility of being a first-time All-Star.

“I don’t have it in my mind (but) I’d love to be part of the All-Star game,” Herrera said through a translator. “If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, it’s OK, I just want to help my team win.”

On Tuesday, that team will be the National League All-Stars, with home-field advantage in the World Series on the line.

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