Elian Herrera has appeared in big-league games at six different positions, something the Brewers couldn't ignore when they needed help from Triple-A recently.
Rick Scuteri/Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
MILWAUKEE — How many gloves does Elian Herrera own?
After glancing back into his locker to do a quick count, Herrera proudly proclaimed he has three different gloves, while a fourth one could be on its way.
Herrera is currently extremely valuable to the Milwaukee Brewers in a time in which they are playing down an outfielder and with their backup catcher suspended.
The 29-year-old embodies what it means to be a utility player. He’s appeared in big-league games at six different positions, something the Brewers couldn’t ignore when they needed help from Triple-A.
Herrera was called up April 17 when Lyle Overbay went on the paternity list but stayed up when Logan Schafer went on the disabled list this past weekend. He’s now the fourth outfielder but has an added job duty over the next few days.
"Yeah, why not?" Herrera said with a grin when asked if he’d be fine going into a game behind the plate. "I would be OK with it."
Catcher is the only one of the nine positions Herrera hasn’t played at professionally — yes, he even has pitched in the minor leagues — but the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him as a catcher out of the Dominican Republic in 2003.
Herrera suffered an elbow injury while catching at the Dodgers’ academy in the Dominican Republic and decided to spend his down time trying to increase his speed. He ran on the beach every day to try to build up leg strength and it worked.
Now much faster, the Dodgers moved Herrera to second base.
"They asked if I would like to play second base, and I said, ‘Yeah,’ Herrera said. "But they saw me catching fly balls in BP and they said, ‘You can play outfield.’ They then started moving me around.
"When they started moving me around to every position, I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t want to do this," Herrera said. "I just want to be at one position and show what I can do.’"
Eventually he discovered his new-found versatility was going to increase his odds of making it to the major leagues.
"That was a good thing for me, now I can play everywhere," Herrera said. "You never know what can happen, that’s why you have to be ready. I know I can play everywhere. I take ground balls, I take fly balls and now I have to go and catch a bullpen."
Claimed off waivers from the Dodgers in November, Herrera was Milwaukee’s last position player cut this spring. He threatened Jeff Bianchi for the utility spot out of camp but was eventually sent down to Triple-A.
Herrera hit .250 and played five different positions in 12 games with Nashville this season.
"I’m really happy to know if something happened here, the first choice they had was me," Herrera said. "That made me happy. I just tried to be ready all the time. I just wanted to be ready if something happened and I can come here."
With Martin Maldonado still with three games left on his five-game suspension, Roenicke said he would give Herrera the first crack behind the plate if something were to happen to Jonathan Lucroy. Bianchi also could catch in an emergency, but he has even less catching experience than Herrera does.
If Schafer is not back before Carlos Gomez has to serve his suspension, Herrera will likely be the replacement in center field.
Herrera had played in 71 major-league games prior to this season with a .251 career batting average and just four errors while playing all over the diamond.
"Herrera can bunt, steal bases," Roenicke said. "He has some speed, a good arm. The catching part is going to be big. Center is big, too. We don’t have anybody else who can play center. Braunie (Ryan Braun) is really our backup center fielder if we don’t have Gomey or Herrera here.
"Bianchi, he started doing this last year, but he really has never been a catcher. Ellie was a catcher, and it makes me feel better that somewhere in his past, he caught a lot of ballgames."
Herrera, who said he caught a couple of bullpens in Triple-A last season but hasn’t played the position in a game for a long time, has been strapping on the gear to aid Brandon Kintzler’s return from the disabled list.
He caught Kintzler’s simulated game Wednesday and looked good in doing so.
"He’s not bad," Kintzler said. "I can actually see him doing it."
Until then, Herrera is just going to stay ready with all four of his gloves at his side.
"You never know," Herrera said. "I have to be ready for any chance I have here. I have to be ready for that.