Perseverance could soon pay off for Herrera

Perseverance could soon pay off for Herrera

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Of the 54 players currently in the Major League clubhouse, guess which one has been in the Dodgers organization the longest. You get 53 chances.

Who guessed Elian Herrera?

"Even I wouldn't have guessed that," said Herrera, who also is in a Major League Spring Training camp for the first time in his 11-year professional career.

While the camp has understandably been buzzing over $42 million Cuban signing Yasiel Puig, Herrera has a better chance of making the Opening Day roster because of his versatility and experience. Especially with Carl Crawford's health still a question.

"He's on the radar. He's on my radar for sure," said manager Don Mattingly. "He can play all three positions, got speed off the bench, can steal a bag, a switch-hitter who's interesting because he's better right-handed than left-handed, which fits into our scenario, and he's on the roster. He's made himself valuable.

"He doesn't get a lot of attention, but we know what he can do. If Carl is not ready Opening Day, he could be in the picture out there."

An 18-year-old Herrera was signed out of the Dominican Republic at on May 14, 2003, one month before the Dodgers drafted Chad Billingsley and Matt Kemp. His odyssey, if nothing else, is a tale of perseverance.

After trying out with the Yankees, Herrera was signed by the Dodgers as a catcher who lacked running speed. He's now on the Major League roster as a speedy infielder/outfielder.

Here's how that happened: While catching at the Dodgers' academy in his native Dominican Republic, Herrera hurt his elbow. While rehabbing, he ran on the beach in the Dominican.

"I built up my legs," he said, "and I started running faster."

He also took balls in the infield and outfield while rehabbing and coaches liked his actions, deciding to moved him out from behind the plate.

But that didn't mean he was on a fast track to the Majors. In fact, it took 10 years, the first three at the Dominican academy.

There were another four years in Rookie-level and Class A ball before he said his game came together while playing for manager Carlos Subero at Class A Inland Empire, where he stole 42 bases in 2009.

"He taught me a lot," Herrera said. "He taught me what kind of player I am."

Herrera admits he twice seriously considered quitting.

"In 2007, out of High Single-A, I was sent to Low Single-A, and then to rookie Ogden," he said. "I told my dad I don't want to play anymore. My dad told me don't do something you'll regret.

"Then two years ago, the same thing. I was hitting .210 in Double-A and went to the manager and said I was going home. But Subero said to me that I've been playing a long time, why give up when I was so close?"

By then, Herrera had married wife Staci, whom he met while playing at Class A Midland, the couple had their first of three children and Herrera had "given my life to Jesus."

"At that point, I was playing for my family, not for me, and giving my life to Jesus I started playing without pressure and that made a big difference," he said.

Herrera wasn't protected in the Rule 5 Draft after the 2011 season or invited to Major League Spring Training last year, but he was hitting .358 at Triple-A Albuquerque when he finally got called up to the Majors to replace Mark Ellis, who suffered a serious leg injury trying to turn a double play.

"I had never gotten my chance before that. Why? I can't explain," said Herrera. "Maybe I never played at a high enough level. But it never stopped me. Should it put me down and I shouldn't try? No, never. Maybe it pushed me.

"I remember even last year they would bring me over from the Minor League camp to be an extra player and I would sit in the corner and look around at the Major Leaguers. It's where you want to be, with the big club.

"Now I see the kids they bring over for the games and they sit over there like I did and they want to be like me. It can open their eyes because you never know what can happen."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.