FORT MYERS, Fla. — A week before Odubel Herrera turned 25, the Phillies awarded him with a $30.5 million contract. The pact, signed in December, was a sound investment, locking in the team's best player at a club-friendly rate until he's 31 years old.
And it could prove to be a steal if Herrera is able to do what he said Tuesday that he can do: win a batting title.
"Of course. Of course," Herrera said before going 2 for 5 with a pair of RBIs in a 9-5 Grapefruit League win over the Twins. "I always have trust in myself."
Herrera returned to the Phillies on Tuesday morning after spending three weeks with the Venezuelan national team at the World Baseball Classic. A slump there — Herrera went 1 for 11 and was removed from the lineup — was not enough to dim the confidence of a player with so much swagger that he flips his bat even after working a walk.
But Herrera's batting crown dreams will likely prove to be too brash. He batted .286 last season and the National League's batting champion — Colorado's D.J. LeMahieu — finished with a .348 mark. The Phillies have not had a batting champ since Richie Ashburn hit .350 in 1958. Herrera would have to take a large step in season No. 3.
Even without a crown, there is the likelihood that Herrera's average improves in 2017. A higher average is a modest goal, but it will be a welcome improvement for a player who has already shown much promise in just two major-league seasons.
Herrera was batting .306 on July 1 last season before stumbling in the second half. He still finished the season with a .361 on-base percentage, a 17-point improvement from 2015. He doubled his walk rate, reduced his strikeout rate, hit more homers, and stole more bases. His batting average could be the next to rise.
The path to a higher average will have to be steeped in the patient approach that Herrera rode to success in the first half. He walked 34 times in the season's first 51 games and saw more pitches than any other batter in baseball.
Herrera, who was acquired in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft for just $50,000, was an easy choice last summer to be the team's lone all-star. Then his production dipped as his patient approach was gone. A wasted month of July (Herrera batted .227 with a .274 on-base percentage) took its toll on his season.
"I do have some goals in mind, but I want to keep them to myself," Herrera said. "I'm trying to be reserved when it comes to that. I'll try to show them as the season goes on."
Despite his struggles in the World Baseball Classic, Herrera said he learned from playing in the high-pressure situations. He was able to play alongside star players like Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez, and Jose Altuve. Herrera idolized those players three years ago when he was a double-A second baseman trying to reach the majors. Now — with last season's All-Star Game trip and the contract that followed — he is among them.