BOCA RATON, Fla. -- One of the memorable moments in a great year for Jon Daniels, the 38-year-old general manager of the American League West-champion Texas Rangers, involved a player no longer with his organization.
It occurred in late July, when the Rangers were in the thick of attempting to trade for Phillies ace Cole Hamels. Daniels and his top lieutenants sat in a hotel room in Anaheim, Calif., watching on television as Hamels no-hit the Chicago Cubs, a masterful pitching performance capped by Odubel Herrera's "circus catch" - as Daniels called it - in center field.
Not only had the prized lefthander Texas was chasing negated any outside concerns about his recent struggles, but also, the 27th out of the pitcher's signature outing was made by a former Rangers prospect in Herrera, signed by their front office in 2008 as a 16-year-old from a three-street town in Venezuela.
"You've basically seen him grow up," Daniels said of Herrera this week at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, site of this year's GM meetings, which wrapped up early Thursday. "You want him to succeed."
Even though the Rangers lost Herrera to the Phillies in the Rule 5 draft last December, Daniels said he was "thrilled" for Herrera's rookie success.
"I wish he was back with us," Daniels said, "but I was happy for the guy."
Herrera's 2015 season ranked among the best rookie seasons for a Rule 5 draft pick. The lively 23-year-old was worth 3.8 wins above replacement, the most for a Phillies rookie since Scott Rolen (4.5) in 1997, and emerged as a building block in the organization's rebuilding process. He batted .297 with a .762 on-base plus slugging percentage and played above-average defense in a new position.
Herrera came up through the Rangers system as a middle infielder, primarily a second baseman.
"A fun player, a fun guy to be around," Daniels said. "He can really hit, and he loves to play the game."
So why did the Rangers leave Herrera unprotected from the Rule 5 draft last year?
"We just played the game," Daniels said. "We thought he had a good chance of getting taken, and we were just hoping we'd get him back. Rule 5 guys are hard (for teams) to keep. The challenge is when you have teams that are somewhat in rebuilding mode, they're willing to live with the bumps and the ups and downs, and that's kind of where Philly was and they got rewarded for it."
Herrera, who will turn 24 in December, should begin next season as the Phillies' everyday centerfielder. The team could expose him to left field in the future to increase his versatility, but that does not sound as if it's in the immediate plans.
"Well, he's a pretty damn good centerfielder," new Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said.
"If we're doing our jobs right in the long run, we're going to have plus defenders at all three (outfield positions). So sort of whichever one they're at is less critical. But everybody seems to be of the mind that he's a quality defensive outfielder, and right now in centerfield, that's perfectly fine with us."
Klentak said he didn't know much about Herrera when the prospect was in the Rangers system. The Phillies had the inside track on Herrera because Jorge Velandia, a member of their player personnel department, was the player's GM in the Venezuelan winter league with Tiburones de La Guaira. Velandia watched every day as Herrera made his transition from second base to the outfield and then made a succesful pitch to director of pro scouting Mike Ondo, who runs the Phillies' Rule 5 draft.
"The guy was a heck of a Rule 5 pick," Klentak said.