February 3, 2023

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What to expect from Iván Herrera

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The Cardinals have called up the No. 99 overall prospect to the Major League club, the organization announced, following Yadier Molina’s move to the bereavement list. Molina could miss up to three days before returning to the St. Louis lineup, so it may not be an extended stay for Herrera, but this initial move to the bigs could give the Cards a close-up look at their future at the catching position.

Signed for $200,000 out of Panama in July 2016, Herrera has climbed quickly through the St. Louis system and now reaches the Majors nine days shy of his 22nd birthday. After hitting a career-best 17 homers and posting a .754 OPS at Double-A Springfield last year, the right-handed slugger jumped to Memphis to begin this season, making him the third-youngest player on a 2022 Triple-A Opening Day roster.

Herrera hasn’t much looked the part of a youngster in the International League. Entering Monday, he owns a .310/.405/.493 line with two homers, one triple and five doubles through 20 games with Memphis. He has been especially hot of late, hitting .395/.500/.711 with seven extra-base hits and more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven) in his last 11 games. As is typical of a catcher who knows the strike zone, Herrera doesn’t typically chase on pitches outside and swings with intent; his 7.8 percent swinging-strike rate ranks ninth among 41 Triple-A hitters with at least 80 plate appearances this season.

Even before that stretch, Herrera hinted that a hot streak could be coming when he visited Charlotte (where Statcast data is available) from April 13-16. He put eight batted balls into play during that stretch. Four had exit velocities of at least 102.3 mph or above. Anything above 95+ mph is considered “hard-hit.”

Cardinals evaluators have become most enamored with Herrera’s improved ability to tap into his power over the last two seasons and believe an improved overall approach has helped in that realm. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound backstop could be around a 15-homer hitter in the bigs at his peak, and together with a solid overall bat, that would provide a good amount of value at such a premium position.

St. Louis officials have also always been hopeful that Herrera could grow into being a solid performer behind the plate. That seems to have kicked into overdrive this year in Memphis, where coaches think working with more veteran pitchers has solidified Herrera’s place as a potential above-average defender. He’s capable of showing a 55-grade arm too, though he’s thrown out only four of 23 attempted basestealers so far in 2022.

Nothing screams plus about Herrera’s offensive or defensive profile, but he has every capability to be a well-rounded Major League backstop for many years, making him both a Top 100 prospect and an option for St. Louis in The Show right now. Even if it’s only for a cup of coffee, the 21-year-old can provide the Cardinals lineup with a jolt akin to the rookie additions of Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez and Brendan Donovan already this season.

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