Updated: Dec 5, 2021
WELCOME TO THE DIRTY FLIRTY.
These are my top 40 prospects in The Cardinals organization, aside from the players that I’ve already covered in The Dirty Annexes. This little ditty here is the preface to all of the post in our Dirty series. So, if you’ve read this once then you don’t need to read it again!
A warning to those looking for Lars Nootbaar, Scott Hurst, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Edmundo Sosa, and anyone aside from Angel Rondon that has already made a major league debut: That’s not really my bailiwick, as I’m sure you’ve heard enough about those guys from more qualified outlets already. Most of those guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway.
A reminder that this is an exercise in futility, ranking prospects. It’s a landscape that is ever-changing and developing. We are almost always talking about kids that are just starting to understand both themselves and their bodies, while learning the most difficult and nuanced sport in the land. You never know when someone is going to start doing 200 pushups per day on their way to postseason glory.
I ask for your thoughts and feedback. I ask that you have fun. I ask that you remember that I’m a moron. Most importantly, I ask that you take all of the prospect rankings from every outlet in the spirit of what they are: a snapshot of that moment, with a bent towards understanding what might come.
FOLLOW THE LIST AND RANKINGS BY CLICKING THIS LINK TO THE ENTIRE LIST OF TOP 40 PROSPECTS AND ANNEXES AND RAMBLES!!!
#3: Catcher Iván Herrera
21 Years Old
Signed out of Panama in 2016
Memphis-ish and Springfield
When I was a kid and I didn’t write about prospects, I used to question every little position on every list as if I had a dog in the fight. That’s because I was a moron. I'm still a moron, but I'm also experience now, at least. Which, of course, you could argue makes me more of a moron than ever before for my ignorance, but I digress.
Now that I write about prospects, I can understand the nuances of these lists a little bit better. I’m sure that it’ll be a little controversial to put Herrera ahead of Matthew Liberatore on The Dirty when comparing both of their 2021 seasons. However, it really is splitting hairs trying to decide which one should be ranked higher.
First, you can never fall in love with the stats. Even at the upper levels of the minors, they only say so much. As impressive at Liberatore was down the stretch in AAA, and as tough as it was for Herrera to get hits during the middle months of the AA, there are just certain things that I really value. The catching position is one of those things. As I’ve stated many times before, fans and pundits alike can’t begin to understand how valuable a good catcher is to a Major League Baseball team or system. A Major League, league-average catcher can stick around for a decade if willing to accept specific roles and opportunities. The same can be said for left-handed pitching of course, but not like it can be said for a catcher.
So, when you have one that has the potential to be as special as Herrera, you must be a little bit more diligent about grading out his skills and assigning value. Being a catcher is the toughest thing that anyone can do in all of sports, with a goalie in hockey as a close 2nd. It’s a grueling grind to do it semi-regularly, and to accept the “tools of ignorance” on a nightly basis like Yadier Molina has done for nearly two decades is downright CRAY CRAY.
Before we get too far, I want to state that I’m not going to get into the whole “who is going to take over for Yadi in 2023?” question, or how Herrera compares to Andrew Knizner. The answer is clearly whoever eats chicken and rice and does 200 pushups every day. The real answer is “who cares, that's still so far away?” Now, let’s move on.
So, while you might look at the stats and see a kid that was barely league average at AA, I see a kid that took massive steps forward in power, how he approaches at-bats, how he works counts, and how he can be an offensive force when he is aggressive in counts.
I tweeted about it a couple of times, but I rarely remember watching Herrera swing at the first pitch. I also tweeted that it seemed like Herrera hit a homer every time that he did swing at a first pitch. While I was definitely being dramatic, one thing that is clear is that sometimes Herrera is hurt by being less aggressive than he maybe should be. I don’t want him to be up there swinging like a maniac at every pitch that he sees, but I do want to see him more aggressive hunting for his pitch early in counts.
After those first couple of pitches – and depending on the count – Herrera has an ideal approach for what he will be asked to do at the plate once he makes it to the Majors. Herrera is an exhausting at-bat for pitchers. Most of his at-bats are long, and it’s clear that Herrera is trying to see a lot of pitches. It’s also clear that Herrera isn’t the world’s biggest fan of striking out by how often he’ll throw the bat at the ball to foul off a tough third strike. What makes this skill and determination even better is that Herrera won’t venture too far out of the strike zone to do it. That's how great his feel for the zone can be. Herrera isn’t the type to go fishing for a ball in the dirt, and if he does it’s because he’s pressing at the plate.
Another facet of Herrera’s career thus far is that he has always performed extremely well in leagues that are older than him, on average. In 2019, Peoria was 2.3 years older than him and Palm Beach was 3.4. In the Arizona Fall League that season, Herrera was the youngest participant and he hit 324/439/382 in a modest 41 plate appearances while walking five times and striking out four times. The kid has never been anything less than league-average at the plate in league’s that he was way below the average age of. That’s rare, and that rarity goes double for catching prospects.
Eventually we will look back at Herrera’s 2021 season and see that he was in the middle of two approaches. Or, rather, discovering how to incorporate his power into his approach. When you scour the stats, you’ll notice that his increase in power came with an increase in pull percentage. Herrera was trying to turn on the pitch more to get it over the fence. You'll notice that, more than likely, in how Herrera kind of "uncorks" his swing. THIS ONLY TELLS PART OF THE STORY.
You’ll see that he only went to the opposite field 29.7% and up the middle 19.8% of the time. Those numbers don’t exactly point towards a hitter that uses all fields, but this is one of those times when the stats lie. I’d wager that most of the balls that he hit to center or right field were in either pitcher’s or two-strike counts. This is part of the reason why I think that Herrera is on the cusp of being able to hit for 40-45 grade power with a 50-55 grade hit tool at the same time, consistently. He is looking to pull the ball when it’s time to pull the ball, and he’s looking to put the ball into play when it’s time to do that. I firmly believe that Herrera will peak when he pounces on those early pitches a little more frequently. Herrera had some rough mid-months during the season, but he never allowed his OBP to dip below .300 in any of those months. He has the type of sustainable approach that will allow him to work through tougher times.
Speaking of seeing stats that might give you the wrong impression of his skills, I wouldn’t invest too heavily into his 25% caught stealing percentage. Herrera does need to continue to work on his mechanics behind the plate and his transition, but the pitching at Springfield was rough this season. This forced Herrera to be off-balance often with his throws as he just tried to get the ball down to second as fast as he could. On top of that, a lot of the pitchers seemed slow to the plate. It seemed to me that a lot of bases were stolen off of the pitcher, before Herrera got a chance to get the ball down there. I know that he also dealt with some nagging stuff (like all catchers do), and that probably added into some of the trouble that he had gunning runners out. Again, he has work to do, but it’s not as bad as it might look on the sheet. Herrera has a really great arm, and he also saved plenty of headaches for pitchers because of it.
The one area of his game that I am most impressed with is his ability to frame the low pitch. It’s worth mentioning that Minor League umpires aren’t nearly as good as Major League umpires, and that makes judging framing a little tough. However, Herrera stole a ton of strikes in the lower half of the zone for his pitching staff. In my mind, this is the toughest pitch to frame and Herrera is the best in the system at it, to these untrained eyes. In general, Herrera is just good at framing. I've been told that Herrrera has the utmost confidence of his pitching staff, and that he's the type of field general that you'd want out of a catcher, as well.
Herrera is also a fun kid to watch. He isn’t a burner by any means, but he’ll take an extra base when given the opportunity. He’s an incredibly hard worker, and I’ve been told that he has the support of Yadier Molina like none of the other catching prospects that have come through the organization have ever had. He’s also an extremely tough kid in the same way that Yadi and Zade Richardson are. I’ve seen this kid take a couple of balls to the balls and stay in the game after taking a couple of minutes to shake it off. He’s a warrior behind the plate that garners the respect of his peers.
I believe that Iván Herrera is due to have a big 2022 season. If there is one thing that I’ve learned over many years of following prospects, it’s that catchers always take a little longer to fully realize their potential. Obviously, this is because of how demanding the position is. I don’t know how long it will take for Herrera to reach his full potential, or how long he’ll float before he swims, but I have no doubt that he is going to be, at least, an average Major League catcher for years to come once he reaches it.
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Thank For Reading!!