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With new focus, Herrera out to prove himself

Center fielder struggled to career-worst season in 2018
@ToddZolecki
March 23, 2019

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- In a season of heightened expectations, nobody knows what to expect from Phillies center fielder Odúbel Herrera. Nobody questions that Herrera is immensely talented. He can hit. He can play Gold Glove-caliber defense. He posted a combined 10.5 WAR from 2015-17, making him the 48th most productive

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- In a season of heightened expectations, nobody knows what to expect from Phillies center fielder Odúbel Herrera.

Nobody questions that Herrera is immensely talented. He can hit. He can play Gold Glove-caliber defense. He posted a combined 10.5 WAR from 2015-17, making him the 48th most productive player in baseball, according to Baseball Reference. But then -- poof -- he can do something crazy that drives Phillies fans nuts. In fact, after a scintillating start in 2018, he struggled offensively and defensively the final four months of the season. He posted a career-low 0.2 WAR, putting him on notice: If Herrera wants to play regularly in 2019, he must do better.

“I think part of the maturity of a player is to know what you’ve done wrong and what you can do better,” Herrera said early in camp. “So I took this offseason just to get better and work hard and start early.”

Herrera said there were times he lost focus last season. Why? He could not say. But it happened, and it cannot happen again.

“It’s definitely an area where we want to raise the bar for Odubel,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “We want him to stay as focused as possible, always be in a ready position when the ball is crossing the plate to be able to get the best possible jumps. At first base, be aware that the spotlight is on him. These are the things that we’re consistently going to be addressing to Odubel.”

Herrera has started 536 games in his Phillies career. He has hit third or higher 415 times (77.4 percent). Herrera is expected to hit seventh this season, with Cesar Hernandez, Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen slated to hit in front of him. If he returns to the form that made him one of the better players in baseball from 2015-17 -- when he hit a combined .288 with a .774 OPS -- the Phillies’ lineup could grind up National League pitching for the next six months.

“For a baseball player, it’s not easy to stay motivated, because obviously it’s a long season,” Herrera said. “But my main focus is to keep that concentration going all season and through nine innings every game and the whole season. I feel that I’ve learned from the mistakes that I’ve made.”

If Herrera falters, Roman Quinn or Aaron Altherr could take his place. Herrera knows that.

“I understand this year there is more competition and honestly, I think it makes me better when I have competition around me,” Herrera said. “It gets the best out of me, because I know I have to play better -- that pressure you need to perform to stay active on the team.”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .