One of the most common South Atlantic League prospects mentioned as a big sleeper this year was (now-former) West Virginia second baseman Dilson Herrera. The 19-year-old middle infielder combined a wide variety of skills and was producing well across the board in his first full minor league season.
This week, Herrera entered a more generalized baseball consciousness, as he was the key piece sent from the Pirates to the Mets in the John Buck/Marlon Byrd deal. There’s been some debate since the trade regarding exactly where Herrera stands as a prospect–some really like him, while others are more hesitant to fully get on board the hype train. I’m probably more in the former camp.
I had the privilege of seeing Herrera play four games with West Virginia earlier this year. On a team that (at the time) included Josh Bell, Stetson Allie, Wyatt Mathisen, and Barrett Barnes, he stood out as the most complete position player. Here’s video of all the plate appearances I saw from him:
The most interesting element that jumps out in the video is the power Herrera generates despite his fairly short stature. He’s just 5’9″ or 5’10”, but he has a strong, compact frame, good bat speed, and good leverage in his swing, which allows him to impart a lot of backspin on the ball at times. He only has a small bit of projection left in his frame, so he doesn’t project to grow from his current power output (11 HR, .421 SLG this year) into some sort of Dan Uggla-esque power guy, but 12-17 homer campaigns are a real possibility, and Herrera projects to hit a lot of doubles as well.
Herrera only has eleven stolen bases this year and doesn’t have the raw speed to project as an impact contributor in that area. He does, however, have good actions at the keystone defensively and can make highlight-reel plays. Some scouts have speculated that he could be a playable shortstop as well, though he hasn’t played a single inning there in pro ball. He has solid hands and is fielding .970, which is a lower miscue rate than most teenage middle infielders have.
With good potential power production for a middle infielder and little to no risk of needing to move to a more demanding offensive position, Herrera already is positioning himself to be a really interesting commodity in dynasty leagues. Second basemen who can slug .400 and pop 15 homers are important assets in all but the shallowest formats.
Is there risk, though? The main source of skepticism about Herrera right now is that he isn’t a huge on-base threat. He’s struck out 23% of the time this year, has walked 7.7% of the time, and is hitting .265 with a .330 on-base percentage. None of those numbers are awful, but they’re all merely playable. Of course, if he ends up hitting .265/.330/.421 in the majors, Herrera will be an unqualified success and a potentially 3+ WAR player, but the issue is whether he’ll be able to avoid a slip in production as his competition gets more polished.
There are a few reasons for optimism in this department. First, of course, is Herrera’s age. If we’re going to talk about how his competition is going to become more advanced as time progresses, we also need to note he has exactly three plate appearances this year against pitchers who are younger than him (ironically, the first three in the video, against 19-year-old Kannapolis lefthanded behemoth Jefferson Olacio). Sure, the competition will get tougher, but he’ll also have more time than most to adjust to it, because he’s already ahead of the age curve.
The second reason to be positive about Herrera’s ability to develop an MLB-caliber approach is his quick bat and hand-eye coordination. You can see him foul off a number of tough outside-the-zone offerings in the video. He does chase pitches at times–he offers at a number of high fastballs and sweeping sliders in the video clips–but not to an egregious sort of Courtney Hawkins/Lewis Brinson extent where there are such pervasive pitch-recognition issues that it becomes difficult to envision the player holding his own in an MLB batter’s box. Herrera’s problems seem to be just a more run-of-the-mill case of overaggressiveness in a teenage hitter used to success, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to project that he ends up with a discerning eye by MLB standards, I can also easily picture Herrera learning to be a .275 or .280 hitter with an OBP in the .330s. Add in the extra-base hit prowess and defensive aptitude, and that’s a heck of a player, either for the Mets or your fantasy team.
Herrera certainly is somewhat far from the big leagues, but he definitely is a prospect on the rise in the biggest up-and-coming farm system in baseball. He has a higher floor than one traditionally finds in teenage Latin American middle infielders, and while he doesn’t quite have one massive area to dream on, Herrera projects to contribute in several areas, with his gap punch ultimately becoming his calling card. He barely made my top 75 prospects at midseason and is one of the top middle infield prospects in the game. He was a nice grab for the Mets in the trade this week, and is a nice grab in dynasty leagues where the obvious top few middle infield prospects have been snapped up.
Nathaniel Stoltz is a prospect writer for FanGraphs. A resident of Bowie, MD and University of Maryland graduate student, he frequently views prospects in the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues. He can be followed on Twitter at @stoltz_baseball.