01/31/11 11:14 PM EST
Herrera ready to fight for his place with Rockies
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
Herrera touched off a wild night of celebration for fans of Caribes in the Venezuelan Winter League on Sunday night. He went 3-for-4 in the decisive seventh game of the league championship series, an 8-7 victory over Aragua. He hit .318 in the league playoffs.
"It's so great to see that all the work we've done, all the sacrifices we have made have finally paid off. We did it despite all the obstacles and the skepticism we faced," Herrera, who played his entire career with a Caribes team that finished last in the league last year, told Venezuelan reporters after the game. "We went to the finals, we never gave up and we gave our fans this title. We know they were anxious to see us get it."
Herrera's story mirrors that of his team.
Not much was expected of Herrera going into last season. He debuted in 2008 and played in 28 Major League games, but he wasn't called up in 2009 and was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training last season. However, after spending the spring impressing manager Jim Tracy with his offensive consistency and ability to play multiple positions, including the outfield, he earned two callups and hit a respectable .284 with a .325 on-base percentage.
Herrera played in all 33 games that starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki missed with a fractured left wrist. All but one of those starts was at second base, with one at shortstop, and he hit .321 with 14 RBIs and 10 runs scored during that stretch. Tracy lauded the switch-hitting Herrera's consistency of good at-bats. He also hit well under pressure, with seven of his 21 RBIs putting the Rockies ahead and four of them winning games.
Still, he will have to fight for a spot with the 2011 Rockies.
Colorado signed left-handed power hitter Jason Giambi to a Minor League contract, but signs point to him being a key part of the plan. If all goes as expected, the Rockies will have a four-man outfield and a seven-man infield -- starters Todd Helton at first base, Ian Stewart at third and Tulowitzki at short, and newly acquired multi-position players Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez are six of them. Lopez is considered a candidate to start at second base.
That leaves Herrera battling with Eric Young Jr., who received regular starts late last season, and former No. 1 Draft pick Chris Nelson competing for one spot. It could be a matter of one of them winning the starting job at second, or showing enough versatility and enough offense for a backup spot. Young needs to improve his batting average and on-base percentage, but the Rockies are intrigued with his speed. Nelson hit .313 with 12 home runs and 55 RBIs at Triple-A Colorado Springs, suggesting a power potential the competition doesn't possess.
But Herrera, 26, who has the brightest resume of the three, doesn't mind a spirited contest. He had the opportunity to leave the Rockies last winter but felt comfortable with the team's direction and was rewarded with his first extended Major League action.
In addition, he likes being on a team that just may have an entire country behind it. He is one of eight of his countrymen on the Rockies' 40-man roster. That number includes newly acquired right-hander Felipe Paulino, who was born in the Dominican Republic but grew up in Venezuela. The others are pitchers Rafael Betancourt, Jhoulys Chacin, Edgmer Escalona and Franklin Morales, Lopez and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.
So Herrera is excited about the Rockies' moves for 2011, even if one of them makes his spot less certain.
"I'm pretty happy to see that people in Colorado like what we do. We always try to do our best. Now, with a team full of Venezuelan talent, and with a great guy such as José Lopez, it's going to be pretty interesting and fun for us," Herrera said to the Venezuelan media recently. "I look forward to having a great time with him and hopefully getting as much playing time as I can alongside him."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.