JUPITER, Fla. -- For most of the next week, Tradition Field's clubhouse will sport a vacant locker toward the middle of one row. Mets prospect Dilson Herrera is skipping town, heading to Panama City to play second base for Team Colombia in a World Baseball Classic qualifier.
Herrera plans to leave Monday, with games scheduled against Panama, France and Spain from March 17-20. If all goes well, he will help Colombia qualify for the 2017 Classic for the first time in the event's 11-year history.
This is not Herrera's first time representing his country; in Nov. 2012, he participated in a similar qualifier. But he was just 18 years old at the time, and with Miami's Donovan Solano entrenched as the country's second baseman, Herrera started only one of Colombia's three games. He finished 1-for-6 with a run scored as Colombia did not qualify for the main tournament.
But times have changed since then. In less than four years, the number of Colombian-born players in Major League Baseball has nearly doubled, from five in 2012, to nine last summer.
"It makes me very proud," said Herrera, who received treatment after fouling a ball off his left knee in Sunday's 11-0 win over the Marlins, but did not consider the injury serious. "A few years back, there were just two or three. Now it's nine or 10. It makes me very proud to be a part of that group and see that baseball's really growing in Colombia."
None of the four hitters in that group boast as much potential as Herrera, who hit .327/..382/.511 at Triple-A Las Vegas last season and profiles as the Mets' second baseman of the future.
Herrera is the only one of Colombia's 16 MLB-affiliated players in the qualifying tournament with big league experience. Panama has 10 affiliated players -- including Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, the roster's lone big leaguer -- while Spain boasts four and France has one. There are four four-team qualifying pools in total, with the winner of each earning a berth in the main World Baseball Classic tournament next March.