CLEARWATER, Fla. – Odubel Herrera arrived inside the Spectrum Field clubhouse Sunday morning sporting a new look that could serve as ammunition for his detractors, a group that is far too large given the center fielder's quality of play during his first three seasons with the Phillies. Now, with his bronze-dyed dreadlock tips and goatee, Herrera could be known as the Phillies' Frosted Flake.
Here under the hot Florida sun in the embryonic stages of spring training, however, he is nothing but adored by his new manager.
"He looks amazing," Gabe Kapler said after the team's workout at the Carpenter Complex. "He looks incredible. I think he is just physically presenting beautifully right now. He has a lot of energy. Obviously, his smile is big and bold. He looks kind of cool, the hair is kind of cool and the beard, but more important he is in incredible athletic condition. You can tell he has put a lot of work in and we're excited about what's to come for Odubel."
Herrera, 26, has been the Phillies' best player over the last three seasons, hitting .288 with a .344 on-base percentage while making one all-star team and playing center field at an elite level. Yes, he also has the ability to infuriate with mental mistakes and his occasional failure to hustle, but when Kapler met with Herrera this offseason in Miami, the manager opted to focus on the outfielder's positive attributes, of which there are many.
"Not only is there a clean slate, but the meeting in Miami was much more about supporting," Kapler said. "Before we have an opportunity to really sharpen, we have to build trust, we have to demonstrate that we really care about somebody, we have to support. And then it's a whole lot easier when the time comes – and it absolutely will come – for us to raise the bar for our players and to have those more difficult conversations."
Even before Kapler's arrival, it was clear that general manager Matt Klentak believed Herrera was a difference maker, especially when it comes to the way he plays center field. Kapler is on board with that opinion and determined to help Herrera reach an even higher level.
"I told him he is an elite-level defender in center field, which is absolutely true and fairly easy to quantify," Kapler said. "I told him with some small adjustments he could be one of the best all-around center fielders in baseball. We believe that strongly. I told him the sky's the limit for him and I believe he thinks that about himself. There is no ceiling. He wants to be an all-star, he wants to be a Gold Glove defender and he's not that far off from doing both of those things in the same season."
Herrera was an all-star two seasons ago and his defensive metrics rank him as elite. According to FanGraphs.com, he has been the fifth-best defensive center fielder since joining the Phillies as a Rule 5 draft pick in December 2014. FanGraphs ranked him fourth defensively last season.
Unlike Kapler, Klentak has also seen Herrera's flaws and he knows it is probably unrealistic to think they will all disappear just because there is a new manager in the dugout.
"I think what we've seen is a guy who consistently impacts the game defensively whether he's running a hot streak or running a cold streak offensively," Klentak said. "His offense has come and gone over the course of a season and I think that is something I know he wants to improve on. He will go through stretches where he is as discerning as any hitter in baseball and run walk rates at the top of the league for a month or two months at a time. And then there are times when he won't. So I think that is an area of focus for him, but even if he doesn't improve one smidgen in that area, his overall contributions to the team make him one of the better center fielders in baseball."
Klentak and the Phillies believe that Kapler's positive approach will reap rewards for Herrera.
"I think for certain players with certain reputations, getting a fresh start is often helpful," Klentak said. "I know when I arrived two years ago, there were certain players I had heard a lot about their reputations as minor-league players or even major-league players that when given a new start have demonstrated an ability to change and be better. I think that is something all of our players have an opportunity to do right now. They are all trying to get to know a new staff, a new environment, and they are putting their best foot forward and I have no doubt there are going to be some players in our group that really respond well to that."
Time will tell if Herrera is one of them. He came in looking different, but that's nothing new for him. In fact, the gregarious center fielder said he frosted his dreads and goatee shortly after last season ended. He also said he enjoyed his time talking to Kapler and meeting with him in Miami.
"He has some expectations for me," Herrera said. "He wants me to be a good teammate. He wants me to play hard. He wants me to help my teammates out and bring energy to the team."
Asked about his personal goals, Herrera said, "the only one I can share with you is I want to help the team win, but I have some personal ones that I want to keep to myself."