(Ronald Herrera is only 21 years but already has been traded twice in his young career. After a solid first season in the organization in 2016, are bigger things in store this year? Martin Griff/Pinstriped Prospects)
And so it begins.
With the Yankees’ regular-season opener exactly two weeks away, the unveiling of the Yankees’ Top 15 prospects here on the The Times-Tribune Blog begins today. This will be pretty similar to what you saw in the past from former RailRiders beat writer and current Times-Tribune sports columnist Donnie Collins but the list itself will be slightly different.
I’m using the beginning of this post as a forewarning of the difference and I’ll throw in a quick reminder at the top of the ensuing posts.
This year’s series is a countdown of the best 15 prospects who I believe can help the Yankees at some point over the course of this season. To be clear, I’m not saying that a player who is ranked higher than another will get more playing time in the Bronx. It’s simply the organization’s best 15 players who could suit up in pinstripes in 2017.
Spoiler alert: Outfielder Blake Rutherford will not appear in this series. Yes, the 2016 first-round pick seems to be at least a top 10 overall prospect by just about all scouting publications. But I think we can all agree that a 19-year-old who was still in high school at this point last year will not be playing in Yankee Stadium this year.
I hope you guys enjoy this little twist. I think it can be a cool way for you to get to know some of these minor leaguers before they potentially get to The Show, especially with the “youth movement” being heavily emphasized this past year.
So with that, let’s begin the countdown with No. 15, Ronald Herrera.
Weight: 185 pounds
40-man roster: Yes
The Yankees acquired Herrera from San Diego on Nov. 11, 2015 for former RailRider and 2014 International League hits leader Jose Pirela. That came about a year and a half after Herrera was traded from Oakland. He pitched all but one game at Double-A Trenton last season where he went 10-7 with a 3.75 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 23 starts (132 innings).
That lone start away from the Thunder came in the second week of the season when he got called up to make a spot start with the RailRiders. In that April 16 outing against Syracuse, the then-20-year-old understandably struggled, giving up seven hits, five runs and a home run in five innings. However, he had eight strikeouts, which at that time matched a career-high until he fanned nine in his next start back at Trenton.
The highlight of Herrera’s season undoubtedly came April 26 when he pitched eight no-hit innings with five strikeouts before he was lifted in favor of Jonathan Holder, who completed the combined no-hitter. It wasn’t a popular decision among fans but Herrera was at 105 pitches, which turned out to be a season high.
Herrera has four pitches and generally has good command but sometimes struggles with consistency. His fastball has been clocked in the 91-93 mph range but multiple reports have it topping out at 94 mph and shows late movement, something you can see in the video below. Herrera also possesses a curveball, changeup and slider that appears to look like a cutter at times.
Despite a less-than-stellar pitching line in his Triple-A debut last season, Herrera still got strong reviews. One scout told the New York Post’s Joel Sherman:
“He is a medium-body right-hander who looks generic as hell. The stuff is not overpowering, but the pitchability and command are both so good. He is so poised, especially for his age. I love his makeup. I love how he mixes pitches. He is a big-league starting pitcher.”
When he met with the media after the start, Herrera said that he felt good with throwing the changeup, despite leaving one out over the plate, which resulted in a two-run home run by Trea Turner, who was the Nationals’ top prospect at the time.
Herrera doesn’t strike out a ton of guys but he won’t walk a lot either. He hast just 6.96 strikeouts-per-nine innings, which is slightly below average according to FanGraphs. However, his 2.25 walks-per-nine innings fall in between the “Great” and “Above Average” categories.
Here’s video from Herrera’s July 29 start against Altoona. You can see the late movement on his fastball, as well as a quick release from his arm slot.
And here’s video of the Turner home run I referenced above. You can clearly see the changeup left out over the plate, which the good upper-level hitters — like Turner — will take advantage of.
What Lies Ahead in 2017
OK, so maybe those videos don’t leave you with the best first impression of Herrera if you’ve never seen him pitch. But keep this in mind. The day after Herrera’s RailRiders debut, general manager Brian Cashman told Sherman to “keep an eye on him, we think he has a chance.”
Herrera was added to the 40-man roster and protected from the Rule 5 draft H in November but nobody really believed he was a serious candidate to break camp with the Yankees. He never got a chance to showcase his skill set for the Yankees while in big league camp thanks to right shoulder inflammation that has plagued him for about a month. On Monday, the Yankees optioned Herrera back to Trenton and reassigned him to minor league camp.
There’s no need to rush Herrera at this point. When he is healthy, though, Herrera will likely be with the RailRiders given his fast rise up the minor league ranks. Also keep in mind that his first Double-A exposure came in 2015 when he made eight starts with the San Antonio Missions of the Texas League. At this point, consistent Triple-A starts seem to make the most sense.
Because of his 40-man roster status, a September call-up figures to be likely. But given the uncertainty in the back end of the Yankees’ rotation going into the season, it’s not unreasonable to think Herrera could get a shot before that if he performs the way Cashman and several scouts seem to think he’s capable of.