Kapler comfortable starting Kingery anywhere
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With excess of talent, Phillies may not ride out Herrera's struggles

 

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor 

About an hour before the Philadelphia Phillies announced Scott Kingery's extension, Odubel Herrera flashed what's made him a frustrating player in the minds of some. Herrera, on the first pitch of the game, read a fly ball off the bat of Craig Gentry extremely well, making his catch look easier than most would have. In the bottom half of the first, with a scorching-hot Rhys Hoskins at the plate, Herrera was picked off at first base to end the inning. 

Over the course of his first three seasons in the majors, the 26-year-old has displayed bipolar levels of consistency. The Phillies have continued to give Herrera regular at-bats through any struggles that he's had in his young career. But with an excess of outfielding talent, they may be less inclined to do that moving forward. 

When Herrera is on, he's really on. He propelled himself to an All-Star Game appearance in 2016 with a tremendous month of April, when he hit .313 and walked 23 times. In 198 at-bats after the All-Star Break in 2017, he slashed .323/.378/.551 with 17 doubles. 

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Of course, there's a "but" here. For as hot as Herrera gets when he's on, he's displayed a tendency to go ice-cold just as quickly as he heats up. The clearest example of this came in May of 2017, when he hit just .183 and struck out 30 times. And for as much of a spark-plug as he was working 23 walks in April of 2016, he walked just 31 times the entire 2017 season.

Over the past few seasons, the Phillies have continued to run Herrera out through many of his cold streaks, largely because they didn't have another legitimate option. 

When Herrera was mired in the worst month of his career last May, Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins were still at Triple-A. Howie Kendrick was on the disabled list. Michael Saunders, who was getting a bulk of the at-bats in right field, was a a month away from being released. 

 

In July of 2016, when Herrera hit just .227 and struck out 24 times, the other four outfielders on the Phillies 25-man roster were Tyler Goeddel, Peter Bourjos, Cody Asche and Jimmy Pardes. David Lough also got some at-bats in the outfield. When the 2018 regular season begins Thursday, there's a very real chance that none of those names are on a major league roster. Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr, who otherwise would have been getting at-bats at the major league level, were injured during July of 2016. 

When Herrera struggled at the plate over the past two seasons, former manager Pete Mackanin didn't have another realistic option to replace him with. In 2018, rookie manager Gabe Kapler will have an excess of options to push Herrera with. 

After Sunday's Spring Training loss to the Orioles, Kapler told the collective media, including Ben Harris of The Athletic, that center field was one of six positions he would be comfortable starting Kingery at. The guess here is that won't happen frequently, if at all. However, there's a very real possibility that he could see a significant amount of at-bats in right field. That would free up both Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr, both of whom are capable of playing center field, should Herrera be in the midst of a difficult month. 

None of this is meant to suggest that Herrera isn't one of the most talented pieces that Kapler has at his disposal. In addition to the energy that he brings to a lineup when things are going right, he's been an excellent center fielder. According to FanGraphs, Herrera has been the fifth best fielding center fielder since 2015. (It's worth noting that 2015 was his first year playing the position.) 

But simply, gone are the days where Herrera will get enough at-bats to strike out 30 times in a month. It may not be for an extended period, but when Herrera goes through a slump during the 2018 season, he'll likely find himself on the bench. 

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