The Yankees announced somewhat unexpectedly on Wednesday evening that right-hander Ronald Herrera had been recalled from the Trenton roster in favor of Ben Heller, who was optioned back down to Triple-A. Herrera was in uniform and available for the team out of the bullpen in Anaheim on Wednesday night.
Who is Ronald Herrera? How did he make his way to the majors? Why him, why now? Many have been throwing these questions since the move was announced.
No question, the 2017 season has brought a lot of attention to Herrera that wasn’t there when it began. Herrera, the reigning Eastern League Pitcher of the Week, joins the big league club as the current league leader in wins (7-0), ERA (1.07) and WHIP (0.75). While the opposition was hitting just .166 against him and the numbers across the board resemble that of a video game, the 22-year old right-hander isn’t the power pitcher that the stats might lead you to believe.
Herrera has a fastball that usually sits at 92-94 MPH and a sharp curveball that has given EL hitters fits, but make no mistake, he has been given this opportunity because of his advanced command of the strike zone. In 114 career games spanning 602 1/3 innings of work, Herrera has issued just 147 walks over that time.
Where did he come from? Herrera was originally signed by the Oakland Athletics as a non-drafted free agent in December of 2011 as a ripe 16-year old for $20,000. He was sent to the San Diego Padres in May of 2014 along with Jake Goebbert in a deal that netted them Kyle Blanks. The Yankees then acquired him from San Diego on November 11, 2015 in exchange for Jose Pirela. Prior to arriving in the organization last season, the Venezuelan native had made just eight career starts above the High-A level.
I had never heard of Herrera before the Yankees had decided to make the trade for him. I can remember interviewing Thunder Manager Bobby Mitchell via telephone while he was in the middle of his first spring training with the Yankees last March. While we touched base on a variety of different topics and players, I asked him one player that had stood out to him during the camp. His answer was Herrera. From that point forward, I paid extra close attention to the way that Herrera went about his business both on and off of the field.
Herrera debuted with Trenton last season and spent a majority of the campaign as the youngest pitcher in the league. He famously tossed eight no-hit innings against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on April 26 and combined with current Yankees reliever Jonathan Holder to throw the second no-hitter in franchise history. In 23 starts as a 21-year old, Herrera went 10-7 with a 3.75 ERA; he issued just 35 walks in 132 innings.
While many teams marvel at max-velocity guys and fall in love with radar gun readings, the Yankees admired the unflappable demeanor and superb command that they saw from Herrera in his first season with the club. Herrera has also proved to be durable throughout his career, having pitched at least 130 innings in three straight seasons. In what came as a surprise to some, the organization opted to add him to the 40-man roster this past winter to protect him from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft.
With a trip to the DL all but a certainty for C.C. Sabathia and the Yankees bullpen drained after extensive use on Tuesday, it is unclear what the role of Herrera will be at the big league level beyond Wednesday night. The Yankees are going to need a starter this weekend, and while it could be Herrera to take the ball, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell and Domingo German are all viewed as candidates who could take that turn in the rotation. While Herrera may merely be in Anaheim as a guy to eat innings in an emergency, his arrival in the pinstripes is no accident. Even if he finds himself back riding the bus with his Trenton teammates nearly 3,000 miles back east tomorrow, Herrera has clearly established himself as a guy that the Yankees can turn to in a moments notice.