Amidst the flurry of activity in Flushing over the last week or so, a move that may have flown under the radar for some was the New York Mets’ signing of Dilson Herrera to a minor league deal on Nov 29.
Traded to the Mets, along with Vic Black, for John Buck, Marlon Byrd, and cash considerations in 2013, then flipped to Cincinnati in the Jay Bruce trade in 2016, Herrera, still just 24, now finds himself back in Queens, albeit blocked at his natural position by two highly-regarded players — Robinson Cano and 2018 rookie sensation Jeff McNeil.
A second baseman by trade, the Columbian native has made 11 MLB starts in left field (all in 2018), presumably in an attempt to expand his skill set and offer a bit more versatility as a ballplayer. He’s also played 19 innings at third base and one frame at first base, again, all last season.
His glove at second plays well at the major league level (zero defensive runs saved and a 1.5 ultimate zone rating in 467.1 career innings), though his bat has not developed at the rate the Mets originally had Herrera pegged for.
In his first MLB season, 2014, Herrera hit .220/.303/.407 with a .256 BABIP, .317 wOBA, and 105 wRC+ rating in 66 plate appearances. Promising, but mostly underwhelming. In 103 plate appearances in 2015, his strikeout rate dropped from 25.8 percent to 22.3 percent — a plus — but his slash line dipped across the board (.211/.311/.367, .298 wOBA, 91 wRC+).
Herrera resurfaced in the majors again in 2018, still with the Reds, and looked over-matched, to put it as plainly as possible. He struck out in 40.2 percent of his plate appearances (39 in 97 PA), hit just .184/.268/.414, his hottest stretch of the season coming between Aug. 7 and Sept. 5, when he slashed .237/.310/.500 in 38 at-bats.
Why would the Mets take a flyer on Dilson Herrera, after this level of major league productivity? Depth, probably. At the time of the signing, the team was heavily involved in talks with the Mariners, eventually acquiring Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz in exchange for Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, and Gerson Bautista.
For a brief (not for Mets fans) moment, Jeff McNeil’s name was being tossed around as a possible piece in the deal, to no avail (thank goodness). That could have been the driving force behind the Mets’ front office deciding to give an old friend another shot, but that’s purely speculation.
It’s highly unlikely that Herrera will find himself lined up along the first base line for Opening Day player introductions next season, but with an invite to major league camp in Port St. Lucie, a strong showing, along with his newfound versatility, could land him a job as a Four-A type of player for the Mets.
Now that the organization’s Triple-A affiliate is located just a few hours away in Syracuse — depending on how productive he is, of course — Herrera could surely be a call-up candidate in a tight spot. His stat line in the minors is awfully impressive (.295/.358/.460 over eight MiLB seasons).
Once he puts everything together and starts producing at the highest level — his time will come sooner or later, being just 24 with minor league numbers like that — Dilson Herrera could become a force in this league. A slick-fielding second baseman who dabbles in the outfield and — once fully developed as a player — can handle MLB pitching, is an asset, plain and simple.
If Dilson Herrera can turn those gaudy MiLB numbers into actual, bonafide MLB productivity, the New York Mets could have the steal of the offseason on their hands. Hopefully, being back with the organization he made his MLB debut with will spark something in this young man.
Having a few extra, capable bodies at the Triple-A level for those unavoidable “just in case” moments is never a bad thing. Whether Herrera can separate himself from guys like Luis Guillorme, Dominic Smith, T.J. Rivera, or the oft-forgotten Gavin Cecchini and actually get that call remains to be seen.