Herrera closer than ever to realizing dream
Versatile infielder eyes making Opening Day roster for first time
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jonathan Herrera was tired of being told no, or -- when he would receive an explanation -- that he was too small for a shot at professional baseball.
"The Rockies were going to be the last shot I took -- I was 17," Herrera said. "I told myself and I told my dad if I don't sign, I'm going to go back to school. I'm so tired, and I believe I can play. But when the Rockies said they would sign me, I didn't think twice. And I never thought about my size again."
The investment for the Rockies was small -- $12,000. Now Herrera, listed at 5-foot-9, is making a big push for his first Opening Day roster spot with the Rockies, and possibly even more than that. Herrera tripled in the Rockies' 6-2 loss to the Indians on Friday afternoon, and he is hitting .545 (6-for-11) with two triples and two walks in Cactus League play.
The 26-year-old began last season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, but he was promoted twice and hit .284 with a .352 on-base percentage, one home run and 21 RBIs in 76 games. Most notably, when star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was out for 33 games with a fractured left wrist, Herrera started 32 times -- 31 at second base, one at short -- and batted .321 with 14 RBIs and 18 runs scored.
2010 Spring Training - Colorado Rockies
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Spring Training Info
The Rockies traded last year's regular second baseman, Clint Barmes, to the Astros. But they also traded with the Mariners for veteran infielder Jose Lopez, seeing more power potential at second base.
Entering camp, Herrera was considered one of the possible utility options. All he has done is do a big enough job of what's commonly known as "the little things" to be noticed.
"He knows who he is," said Rockies manager Jim Tracy. "He understands what he needs to do to be an effective player on a championship-caliber team. That's who Jonathan Herrera is. Every at-bat it takes, he knows what the score is. He knows what's necessary."
Herrera's at-bats in 2010 loomed large. A third of his RBIs put the Rockies ahead and four of them won games. He led the Rockies with 10 total sacrifices, including seven sac flies, even though he played in fewer than half the games.
Two games the Rockies didn't win last year stood out for Tracy. In successive one-run losses to the Phillies, Herrera drew walks from closer Brad Lidge and helped the Rockies load the bases with two outs each time.
He had two good at-bats with two strikes on Friday, a point of emphasis for Tracy and new hitting coach Carney Lansford. One of those appearances became the triple down the right-field line, and on the other, he was robbed of a hit when Ezequiel Carrera made a nice play on his liner to center field.
For a team that has a few stars but won in recent years with execution, Herrera is starting to sound like a fit as a regular. For now, the plan is to go with Lopez low in the order in a position to drive in runs, and for Seth Smith, who, according to Tracy, has turned in regular high-quality at-bats this spring, in the No. 2 spot in the order.
But Herrera's ability to handle the bat could allow him to hit in the two-hole, and he can play second, short, third and the outfield. Lopez and veteran Ty Wigginton are also versatile enough that there could be a seat for Herrera at the table if the chairs are arranged differently.
"I'm not ready to make any firm commitment just yet," Tracy said. Just continue to play this out, see how it all goes. We had options last year. I don't think with all the devastation we took last year, I don't think we would have been sitting there on the 18th of September at 82-66.
"But I feel from the end of 2010 to where we're at right now, we've enhanced our options. If this doesn't work out, that doesn't work out or we get this injury or that injury, we can keep right on playing."
Herrera said earning a starting job is a career goal, but he'll appreciate markers he earns along the way.
He grew up in Maracaibo, Venezuela, admiring his older brother, Jesus Herrera. Eight years older, Jesus Herrera took Jonathan to play with bigger kids and admonished him if he'd cry after injuries. Jesus Herrera ultimately signed with the Reds and played two years in rookie ball, 1995 and '96.
Herrera himself played five years below Double-A. He got a brief shot in the Majors in 2008 (.230 in 28 games), but he was passed over totally in '09.
So even if Herrera hasn't forced his way into the regular lineup by the time the season starts, being on the Opening Day roster will be thrill enough.
"It's got to be something really different," Herrera said. "I dream of how it's going to be. Opening Day, on the first-base line at Coors Field with everybody cheering, that can be something really special for me if I make the team."
Interestingly, Herrera wasn't always the little guy who could.
He played youth ball against Rockies star outfielder and neighborhood playmate Carlos Gonzalez. Until age 12 or 13, Herrera, then a standout pitcher, was one of the tallest and biggest players.
Herrera may have stopped growing physically, but he's grown as a player.
"If you do the job, you have an opportunity to play," Herrera said. "It doesn't matter what color, what age, how tall, how big you are. Play the game right."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.