Las Vegas, Nevada —— After seven years as a minor leaguer in the Colorado Rockies’ organization, Rosell Herrera had a choice to make this winter. Finally granted minor league free agency, and fresh off one of the better years of his professional career in Double-A Hartford in 2016, the infielder/outfielder could test the waters elsewhere in professional baseball, or he could re-sign with the team that originally signed him as a 16-year-old and developed him into adulthood.
His decision to stay with the Rockies proved easy.
“I really tried to stay here because I have a lot of people here who love me, and I love a lot of people here,” Herrera told Baseball Census about rejoining the club very soon into last winter’s free agency foray. “This is just my team, I love the Rockies, and every day I want to come out and work hard, and do my best for this team. I want to keep working hard and put myself in place so that when that moment comes, I will be ready for it.”
‘That moment’ Herrera refers to is, of course, a possible Major League debut at some point in his future. Still just 24 years old, he has yet to reach the big leagues and is only now in the midst of his first summer in Triple-A, where he’s slashing .232/.280/.263/.543 through 31 games with the Albuquerque Isotopes.
Underwhelming current numbers aside, though, Herrera is something of a lightning rod among Colorado Rockies prospect hounds. It feels like he’s been in the minors forever, and yet he’s still two-and-a-half years younger than the average Pacific Coast League player this season. Three years ago, he was one of the top prospects in all of professional baseball, ranked in the league-wide top 100 by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. At the 2014 All-Star break, he appeared in the Futures Game, and collected two hits on the national stage—including one off Noah Syndergaard.
And yet he’s completely dropped off every prospect list—national and organizational—as the new-look Colorado Rockies have re-stocked with a legitimate crop of top prospects younger, flashier, and more successful than Herrera. Three years and a million miles removed from the Futures Game, you can’t help but wonder if he missed his shot. He’s in Triple-A now, but far from tearing it up in limited playing time as he tries to find his fit among a deep outfield crew in Albuquerque.
It doesn’t mean the club can’t still get value out of Herrera. He’s a versatile defender who has worked out at shortstop, third base, first base, and all three outfield positions this year alone. To that end, it might be time to get creative to find some consistent at-bats.
“Yeah, first base has been a little bit different, but it hasn’t been that bad,” Herrera said of starting to take ground balls at first base—a new development in a quest to figure out where best to put the athlete. “When I signed, I played shortstop, so I can catch a ground ball. I’ve caught a lot of ground balls at shortstop and third base in my career. So I look at it as a good opportunity for me. And I think every [new] level means a new adjustment. You have to learn every year, and for me maybe that means making an adjustment like this.”
It’s been an interesting eight-year journey for Herrera, one that’s now taken him through virtually every defensive position: sign as a shortstop, then get moved to third over questions about sticking at short long-term. Succeed at third, but questions about whether he’ll hit for enough power moved him to the outfield. Survive in center, but with the Rockies seeking some kind of long-term fit at first base, hey, why not stick Rosell Herrera over there and see if he can hang?
But while super-utility guy Rosell Herrera isn’t just a million miles removed from top prospect status and Futures Game stardom, he’s also a million miles past the immature kid that signed professionally so long ago. Growth is inevitable from the mid-teens to early-20s, but the development of Herrera’s knowledge about the nuances of the game goes right to the only organization he’s ever known.
“From where I started to right now, there’s been so much work, so much is different now for me,” Herrera said, smiling. “When I was younger, I understood a couple things about baseball, but right now I understand a lot of things. It’s impressive for me to see how different I am now from when I first signed.”
To that end, just to hear him talk about that journey makes it blatantly obvious why he chose to re-sign with the Rockies in November.
“It has been a long road to get here, but everything is for a purpose,” he said. “For me to get this many years with this organization, this has really been fun. Everyone in this organization has helped me so much, and I’ve really needed them. Sometimes you don’t feel like working hard, or you have little injuries, or whatever, but you have to keep going, and they have pushed me.”
He smiled again.
“Everybody here has a dream to be in the big leagues, and I do, too,” he concluded. “But the most important thing for me is today. I have 100% to give today, and I have to give it all to my team. That’s my only goal.”
No wonder he never thought about leaving the Colorado Rockies — for Rosell Herrera, this is home.
In this Rosell Herrera / Colorado Rockies feature: