When 23-year-old Odubel Herrera was selected by the Phillies from the Rangers with the eighth pick in the 2014 Rule 5 draft, his name hardly drew a shrug from the press. A year and a half later, he was the Phillies’ lone representative at the 2016 All-Star Game. He turned his breakout performance into a five-year contract extension. The Phillies turned a Rule 5 lottery ticket into a franchise building block.
The Padres took an even longer reach by acquiring 21-year-old shortstop Allen Cordoba from the Cardinals in the 2016 version of the Rule 5 draft. While it’s not clear how he would fit on the MLB roster, he has a chance to fill the backup utility player role vacated by the non-tender of Alexi Amarista. Cordoba is a shortstop, but he could be stretched to back up positions all over the field. What’s the long term prospect for Cordoba? Could he follow the surprising path laid by Herrera?
What do they have in common?
Both came from organizations that were stacked with middle infielders. The Rangers’ top prospects of Rougned Odor and Jurickson Profar were at the top of the list, but Herrera was buried behind a wealth of organizational talent. The Cardinals have Herrera’s All-Star teammate Aledmys Diaz starting at SS with veteran Johnny Peralta backing him up on the MLB roster, and before Cordoba’s selection he was stuck behind another two or three SS prospects on the organizational depth chart. Even though he hasn’t played above rookie-league ball, it wasn’t for a lack of talent, it was because he was blocked at the higher levels.
Neither played in the high minor league levels before being drafted. Cordoba’s four years of professional experience come in the Dominican Summer League and two years in Rookie League ball. Herrera had completed one partial season in AA, and he was very young for the level. Granted, there’s a big leap between the Gulf Coast or Appalachian Leagues and the Texas League, but neither accumulated much time against advanced pitching before being thrown into the deep end of the pool.
How are they different?
Herrera was consistent; Cordoba has broken out. Herrera’s minor league combined line of .294/.354/.377 is decent, but what impresses me is that each line of his sheet looks remarkably similar. For him to take that performance up a notch at the MLB level is unusual, but it’s a notable case where the typical decline when moving up a level isn’t always the case. Cordoba’s sample size is much smaller, but the breakout he experienced in 2015 was repeated in 2016 with stellar numbers indicative of a player with excellent plate discipline and contact ability paired with plus speed. Those are the kinds of tools that can translate well to higher levels. The challenge will be getting him the experience to adjust to the change without harming his development.
Herrera mashed in his first spring training after his Rule 5 draft selection. Cordoba has struggled mightily. In 2015, Herrera hit .343/.382/.443 in 70 spring training at-bats, and he continued to hit well with full playing time from Opening Day on. Cordoba has appeared overmatched with his .163/.226/.163 line, striking out in 32% of his at-bats, and he still has yet to produce an extra base hit. His track record in the minors points to much better rate stats. Perhaps the Padres coaches are guiding him through an adjustment period. They say the step from single-A to double-A is huge; the step from rookie pitching to MLB pitching must be immense.
Do the Padres seem to have a plan for Cordoba?
According to Baseball-Reference, Cordoba has spent the vast majority of his time in the minors (78% of total innings) playing shortstop. This spring, he’s seen playing time all over the place. In order of innings played, he’s been at third base, leftfield, shortstop, second base, and centerfield. With Luis Sardiñas struggling and Erick Aybar having a surprisingly decent spring, there’s a chance that the Padres will open the season with both Aybar and Sardiñas on the roster, so for Cordoba to have a role on the team it may need to be elsewhere on the field. For the sake of this comparison, Herrera was converted to an outfielder by the Phillies and has played there exclusively since making the team. It appears that Cordoba is being prepped for a super-utility role to stash him at the end of the bench along with fellow Rule 5 draftees Miguel Diaz and Luis Torrens.
What’s the prognosis?
A less defined role for Cordoba is likely to expose him to limited opportunities and inconsistent playing time. Many have argued that interrupting a developing player’s natural progression could have detrimental long-term implications. Still, there’s a chance that he could put in work outside of game time and make strides through the season to become a second-half contributor. After all, he’s working with better coaches and in better facilities than he’s likely seen to this point in his career.
Carrying one project player is a big challenge for a 25-man roster, and the Padres appear intent to carry two or three. If the coaches and scouts like what they see in the kid it may be worth the endeavor long-term, but it will be a struggle for Andy Green to find a role for him on the field. Let’s hope that he blooms on the field before our eyes and we get to look back on this move as yet another crafty AJ Preller maneuver.