Cardinals catching prospect Ivan Herrera grew up in Panama idolizing Yadier Molina, Buster Posey and Salvador Pérez.
When he wasn’t pretending to be one of his baseball heroes in his backyard games, he imagined what it would be like to share the same uniform and clubhouse with them. He thought about the type of conversations he would have if he ever met one of them.
So when the Cardinals came calling, it didn't take long for Herrera to sign. The Marlins were also in the mix.
“I picked the Cardinals because it’s a winning organization and I knew I wanted to get to the Major Leagues with them one day so I could play with Yadier Molina and learn from him,” Herrera said in Spanish from his home in Panama. “He was a big reason why I chose them.”
Herrera, who signed for $200,000 on July 2, 2016, is the Cardinals’ No. 4 prospect. Whether he fulfills a lifelong goal of sharing a big league clubhouse with Molina is to be determined. Molina is a free agent, and Herrera might be on track for Double-A in 2021. Andrew Knizner is on track to assume St. Louis' catching responsibilities if Molina does not come back.
But in many ways, Herrera’s wildest dreams have already come true. He spent Summer Camp shadowing Molina and soaking up as much as he could. When Herrera moved to the team’s alternate training site when the season began, he tried hard to keep in contact with his mentor and hero as much as he could.
“We worked out together almost every day and he gave me lots of advice,” Herrera said. “I know it’s going to help me the rest of my career. I learned about the mental side, how to work and how to have foundation of fundamentals. We talked a lot about the fundamentals of defense.”
Defense matters to Herrera. But it was his bat, not his glove, that caught the attention of the organization’s international scouting department five years ago during a tournament in Aguas Calientes, Mexico. He continued to develop as a hitter in the year that followed, and his prowess eventually caught the attention of other organizations who also wanted to sign him when he turned 16.
“He was somebody that played a premium position that could hit,” said Cardinals assistant general manager Moises Rodriguez, who then served as the club’s international scouting director. “What we liked about him was his ability to hit, his ability to make contact and his approach. He showed a lot of power potential. And while his bat was a little bit ahead of his defense at the time, he also showed potential behind the plate.”
Herrera made his pro debut in 2017 and slashed .335/.425/.441 in the Dominican Summer League. The next season, he hit .336/.415/.483 between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Double-A, though the latter was only for two games. He continued to develop at Class A Peoria and Class A Advanced Palm Beach in 2019 and eventually earned a spot on the Arizona Fall League roster.
“My first experience in the Minors was hard, because first, it’s not easy to leave your home in Panama and then when you start to play, you are facing pitchers with high velocities and big breaking balls,” Herrera said. “But I worked on getting better and I learned a lot about myself. I started working on the mental side. I paid close attention to the game, pitch selection and things like that. The small details that mean a lot.”
These days, Herrera wakes up early and is at the gym by 8 a.m. for a two-hour workout. His daily routine also includes hitting and fielding drills, and he throws to the bases twice a week. He expects to be ready when baseball resumes in 2021 and is determined to be a better all-around player.
“The year 2020 was a tough year for a lot of people and players in the Minor Leagues and Major Leagues,” he said. “It was hard, but you have to take something positive out of it. What I’m taking out of it is everything that I learned. You have to stay positive.”