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How Rosell Herrera landed with the Yankees

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Retracing the former top-100 prospect’s journey to Tampa.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how you put it — whether his play has opened eyes, turned heads, raised eyebrows, or shifted around any other facial features — Rosell Herrera has made a big impression in Yankees camp this spring. In 27 plate appearances he has slashed .400/.444/.600, fielded the ball cleanly in multiple positions, and won fans in the clubhouse with his approach.

If he can parlay that success into a spot on New York’s 26-man roster, Herrera could join Adam Ottavino, DJ LeMahieu and Mike Tauchman on the list of recent Yankees contributors with Colorado Rockies roots.

It’s tempting to say Herrera’s torrid start this spring has come out of nowhere, but the switch-hitting utility player was once a Baseball America Top 100 Prospect with valuable positional flexibility. So how did a player with that sort of pedigree end up as a 27-year-old journeyman fighting for a spot on the Yankees?

Herrera, who hails from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, was signed as an international free agent by the Rockies in 2009 at age 16. He started his career as a shortstop, like many standout athletes, before shifting around the diamond and the outfield as he filtered up through the Rockies’ system.

His early career in Colorado’s farm system was relatively quiet. He showed the stop-and-start progress typical for a teenager.

His breakout came in 2013, his age 20 season, with the Class-A Asheville Tourists. He slashed .343/.319/.515 and posted a 168 wRC+, slugging 16 homers and swiping 21 bases in 126 games, all while seeing time at second, third, and short. His performance impressed scouts, and spurred his ranking as the 86th-best overall prospect by Baseball America headed into 2014.

He joined the High-A Modesto Nuts in 2014, playing alongside fellow Yankee Mike Tauchman, but his season was star-crossed. He suffered inflammation in both wrists, and the condition limited him to 72 games. When he was in the lineup, his production withered. He managed only a .244/.302/.335 slash line and 68 wRC+.

Herrera began 2015 back in Modesto, the start of a long slog back to respectability at the plate. By 2017, he had reached Triple-A Albuquerque, kept afloat by one-year minor league contracts along the way. While he had improved from the depths of that injury-shortened 2014 season, working back up to 96 wRC+, his star had fallen far enough by the conclusion of 2017 for Colorado to release him.

His departure from the Rockies organization turned into an opportunity for his first cup of coffee in the majors. The Reds signed him for the 2018 season, and after a decent showing at the Triple-A level, he made his major league debut. He earned 13 PA before he was placed on waivers, and was subsequently claimed by the Royals. He managed 289 PA for Kansas City, but after the season he was again placed on waivers.

This time the Marlins swooped in for his services. Herrera played in 63 games for Miami, but failed to impress. He finished the year batting right at the Mendoza line, and he became a free agent at the end of the 2019 season.

Enter the Yankees. The Bombers signed Herrera at the start of February 2020, making a low-risk bet that they could coax a little more authority out of his bat. Outside of his special 2013 season, he hasn’t had much pop. It’s unclear whether his old wrist injuries have limited him for the long haul, but if they are behind him, the potential he’s shown this spring might be real.

The Yankees have gotten these types of results recently. In 2019 Gio Urshela, whose past big league output was equally unheralded, bumped his exit velocity up from the mid-eighties to 90.5 miles per hour, and became a key cog in the Yankees lineup.

Gio Urshela Average Exit Velocity by Season
Gio Urshela Average Exit Velocity by Season
Baseball Savant

Though his background differs from Urshela’s, Cameron Maybin underwent a similar change, particularly against breaking and offspeed pitches.

Cameron Maybin Average Exit Velocity by Season
Cameron Maybin Average Exit Velocity by Season
Baseball Savant

In his brief career, Herrera averages an exit velocity of 87.0 miles per hour. If he can nudge that number closer to 90 the way Urshela did, it could unlock the offensive potential he flashed all those years ago. He certainly won’t keep hitting .400, but if he becomes a jack-of-all-trades with a solid bat, it would be a success for him and the Yankees.

It’s easy to root for Herrera. His minor league coaches have praised his attitude and work ethic, and Aaron Boone has touted his positional flexibility this spring. He isn’t on the 40-man roster, and with more time for the Yankees’ injured outfielders to recover due to the suspended season, plenty of obstacles stand between Herrera and making the bench.

But after Urshela flourished unexpectedly last season, Herrera’s own blossoming feels plausible. If he does find a way onto the team, his story — and hopefully his production — will give Yankees fans something to smile about.