Image credit: Ivan Herrera (Photo by Tom Dipace)
During the team’s rebooted spring training and then again at the alternate site in Springfield, Mo., Cardinals catching prospect Ivan Herrera had plenty that he wanted to improve. He wanted to become a better defender. He wanted to improve the strength of his throwing arm. He wanted to call better games for his pitchers.
To achieve the last goal, he leaned upon the experience of Yadier Molina, St. Louis’ stalwart backstop the last 17 years.
The pair talked nearly every day when they were together during summer camp. During drills, in preparation for side sessions with pitchers, occasionally away from the field before the coronavirus pandemic shut things down, Herrera used every opportunity to pick the brain of the man he hopes to one day succeed.
“It’s been good for me. I have a lot of things to learn, and I think I’ve done a really good job,” Herrera said. “I get stuff from Molina. He’s helping me right now to get better.”
Last season, between both levels of Class A, Herrera hit .284/.374/.405 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs. He also caught 31% (32 of 104) of attempted basestealers. In a stint in the Arizona Fall League, he went 11-for-34 with two doubles and six RBIs and cut down 5 of the 15 runners who tried to steal on him.
The 2020 season was likely going to give Herrera his first taste of the upper levels. If he could hack it there, in his age-20 season, his prospect stock would have shot even higher. Already, he ranks as the Cardinals’ No. 6 prospect.
Instead, when the shutdown hit in mid-March, Herrera headed back home to Panama. Initially, because of the strict rules in place to try to tame the coronavirus outbreak, working out was nearly impossible.
“I was there for three months before coming back,” Herrera said. “I ate healthy and worked out where I could during quarantine. I could go out for two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My ID number (ended in a) 4, so I could go out from 4 to 6 to go to the grocery store or things like that.”
Once the situation improved, he began to work out at a gym owned by a family friend. Then, when Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association reached a deal for a season, Herrera returned and has continued to get much-needed developmental reps at the team’s alternate training site.
Beyond working on his defense and getting as many at-bats as possible, Herrera also has made it a point of emphasis this year to become a better leader. Although it’s welcome anywhere on the diamond, leadership is an especially valuable quality to have behind the plate, where a good catcher can earn the trust of an entire pitching staff.
Herrera is already fluent in English, which is a big help. He made that a priority starting as far back as his time in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, when he and an English-speaking teammate would help each other work to become bilingual.
“When I came here I didn’t know English. I was lost,” said Herrera, who says he became fluent in roughly a year and a half. “So, my first season I met a friend and we were roommates, so I’d always speak Spanish to him and he’d speak English to me. That was how I started to learn English. I learned really quickly and took English classes.”
The 2020 season obviously hasn’t been what anybody expected. Those who have gotten time to develop at their team’s alternate site have done so under less-than-ideal conditions, and that’s still better than many players, who have not had any structured development time since mid-March.
So with any opportunity he gets, Herrera will continue to take advantage and work as hard as possible to get to St. Louis.
“Nobody can work harder than you,” he said. “They can have more talent than you, but you can work harder.”