From time immemorial, humans were comforted with tales of heroes; grand stories of a humble protagonist chosen by the Gods or rising from the margins of society to wield some great power to vanquish a greater evil. These heroes remind us that even in spite of our flaws and the odds stacking ever larger against our favor, victory is never far if one has the will to embrace their own strength and never surrender in the face of those odds. It can be said that we're all the protagonists of our own stories, so there's countless heroic tales to be heard; isn't that exciting? After all of that waxing poetic, allow us to focus on the trials and tribulations of one Mr. Jose Herrera in particular.
In the summer of 2013, Herrera signed with a larger amount of fanfare than most D-Backs international signees. Being ranked as highly as 7th in a J2 class that included Eloy Jimenez and Rafael Devers, his readily apparent talent allowed to ink a $1Mil deal as a 16 year old that fairly recently took up switch hitting as a natural right hander. More stout than small; the 5'10", 180 lb native of Venezuela may not have been of the same ilk as a Demigod of Tools like Yoan Moncada, but he was certainly gifted more weapons from his patron deities than we mere mortals could ever dream of. Alas, for all of his gifts he's still a human being, both fragile and fallible.
His professional debut was in 2014 at a Rookie League affiliate, but his season ended prematurely due to injury. The injury shortened season became a staple of his career, happening in every season through 2017 (the first time he reached A ball). In 2018, Herrera struggled early and was hit with a 50 game suspension for use of unapproved substances that interrupted his season. However, if you look at the numbers from his return to A ball (and we will) you can see a slight shift in process for both plate discipline and where the ball is being hit. Be mindful that due to the nature of his 7 year MiLB career, almost every season is partial, thus small sample size caveats apply (seriously, he's played in 354 games before July 27th, 2021 and has caught in 282 of those games). We'll be starting with what might possibly be his strongest offensive trait, plate discipline.
Looking at the above table, the inconsistency of BB/K numbers probably sticks out. However, those are only outcomes; we're more concerned with the process overall. Taking a look at his Pi/PA, one can see a clear upward trend in the number of pitches he's seeing, finally breaking the 3.6 mark in 2018 and never going too far back down. Additionally, the early part of his career had him seeing well over 60% of all his pitches as strikes, but post 2018 it's closer to 56-57%. Then if we take a last look towards his SwStr%, (and it's odd) but essentially all of his worst numbers came from Rookie ball. At the very least, this LOOKS like a progressively more patient hitter that swings on strikes he can connect with. Next, let's talk about some of that contact.
Referring to the next terrible table (seriously, sorry for the quality), please direct your attention to the GB% column while keeping in mind that there is a large amount of noise in the data. Early in his career, it fairly consistently sits in the 50%+ area, starting to show a de-emphasis in the late portion of 2017 that seems to have carried over to subsequent years. Additionally, one can see a clear shift in the larger sample sizes starting with late 2018 from a pull dominant approach to a heavier focus on the other parts of the field (almost every old bit of video I could find of his PAs included the opposing IF in an overshift, so this is an incredibly welcome development).
It's safe to say that if you don't have plus power and you stop hitting groundballs toward the shift your BABIP is going to improve, but it typically doesn't go to the extent of .350+ tune. However, there is some tangible improvement to be found in those numbers and it's up to the individual to what extent they believe in those developments (looking at you, Mike Hazen). There's been enough enough ink shed to this point proclaiming the offense of our protagonist, so we'll give his defense a bit of attention as well.
This is our final table, a much simpler and more direct table than it's predecessors. As we all know, there's not much that can be gleaned from fielding percentage in the Majors, let alone the Minors. However, CS% is calculated the same no matter where you are and it's not subject to the judgment of what an error is. So we'll go with that one, since this is a guy that only has 282 games behind the plate as a professional (translation: he's nowhere near a finished product, for better or worse). But those numbers really just speak for themselves, that looks like AT LEAST an average catcher's arm by the results, which is sadly all that we have at this point (unless someone has MiLB.tv). All of that being said, let's take a brief look back on our protagonist's journey to see if he can succeed in being the hero of his own tale, and by extension, a greater character in the story of the Diamondbacks as a whole.
Early on, it was mentioned that Herrera was signed as a 5'10", 180 lb kid that was originally a right handed hitter. What wasn't mentioned was that now he's a 5'10", 220 lb man and has been performing better against right handed pitching in recent years. Through the rose colored glasses that are Minor League statistics, this looks like a switch hitting catcher with a good idea of his strike zone and an arm that plays in the running game and has three options, some pedigree, and is still developing; even in spite of all of the struggle he has endured. There are clearly worse options to have at the end of the 40 man roster. Yet, Jose finds himself in the position that if the season were to end today, he'd be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft (again). And we might not be so lucky as to have Herrera's Journey continue with the Diamondbacks the next time another team is given that opportunity.