Odubel Herrera Will Have to Fight for Phillies' Starting Center Field Job

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Phillies spring training is turning into Camp Competition.

Maikel Franco and Scott Kingery will battle for the third-base job - unless, of course, the Phillies sign Manny Machado or Mike Moustakas.

And Odubel Herrera and Roman Quinn will throw down for the center field job.

"Competition is a really good thing," manager Gabe Kapler said Friday. "I think competition raises your game, it makes you focused, it makes you bring more intensity."

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Andrew McCutchen is set at one of the corner outfield spots, probably left field. That leaves Herrera, Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr looking for reps in center and right - unless the Phillies sign Bryce Harper.

Kapler has met with Herrera and told him that he will have to earn the center field job.

Herrera, in camp early and looking lean and ready to rumble after getting in the gym and dropping 20 pounds this winter, is prepared to win the job.

"My mentality is that I'm still the center fielder," he said Friday. "All that I can control is the work that I put in on the field. The rest is up to the front office and the staff. They make the decisions."

Late last season, Herrera lost playing time in center field to Quinn. Herrera's overall game slipped in the second half. He hit just .189 with a .530 OPS over the final two months of the season, not quite what the Phillies had come to expect after Herrera made the All-Star team in 2016 and signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension later that year.

Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak pulled no punches with Herrera at the end of last season. They told him he needed to get into better physical condition and eliminate mental lapses in the field and on the bases.

Performance will offer the ultimate verdict, but, so far, Herrera is doing and saying the right things.

"I think part of the maturity of a player is to know what you've done wrong and what you can do better," he said through Diego Ettedgui, the team's Spanish-language translator. "So I took this offseason just to get better and work hard. I've learned from my mistakes and I'm definitely more motivated.

"I understand this year there is more competition and honestly I think it makes me better when I have competition around me. It gets the best out of me, because I know I have to play better. There's pressure that you need to perform."

Herrera's improved physical condition is tangible.

Improvements in concentration can only be measured over time.

"That's definitely an area where we want to raise the bar for Odubel," Kapler said. "If he is the guy that we got closer to the beginning of last season when he was one of the best players in baseball, you're not going to be able to keep him out of the lineup or be able to keep him off the field."

The Phillies have hired Paco Figueroa, a former instructor in the Dodgers system, as their new outfield coach.

"He is known for developing relationships with Spanish speakers and he's known for his ability to ask for a little bit more and get somebody to step up and meet that bar," Kapler said. "The relationship that Odubel and Paco develop will be very important this season."

Herrera, 27, admitted that he needs to improve his concentration.

"There definitely were times when I knew I could have focused more last season," he said.

He said he did not know what caused the lack of focus.

"For a baseball player, it's not easy to stay motivated because obviously it's a long season," Herrera said. "But my main focus is to keep that concentration going all season and through nine innings every game and the whole season."

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