Cubs prospect D.J. Herz sets his sights on lofty goals for 2022
D.J. Herz describes himself as shy, but there’s nothing shy about his intentions for the 2022 baseball season.
The Cubs prospect took home the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award in 2021 after going 4-4 with a 3.31 ERA and whopping 14.4 K/9 across two levels.
Herz wants to repeat the honor and take home the award again in 2022. Brennen Davis was named the Minor League Player of the Year in both 2019 and 2021 (the award was not handed out in 2020 due the pandemic).
“They told me nobody’s ever won Pitcher of the Year twice in a row,” Herz told Marquee Sports Network’s Lance Brozdowski. “That’s a big, lofty goal and I want to get that, just like Brennen did this year. And then keeping my ERA below 2.00 and my strikeout rate above 14.0.”
Herz said lowering walks were also a goal of his but joked he would “rather have strikeouts.”
The 21-year-old southpaw whiffed 131 batters in 81.2 innings in 2021. Put another way, more than 40% of the hitters who stepped into the box against Herz ended up walking back to the dugout with their helmet in their hands.
Herz’s strikeout rate ranked 4th across all of Minor League Baseball in 2021 among pitchers with at least 70 innings.
“He had a 40% strikeout rate last year and he’s left-handed and he’s athletic and has pretty good stuff,” VP of Player Development Jared Banner said on a recent episode of the Cubs Weekly Podcast. “I don’t know if this guy gets enough publicity, honestly. He’s a really impressive young pitcher and we’re really excited for him.”
To build off his breakout campaign, Herz spent all winter at the Cubs complex in Arizona. The offseason work helped him gain more than 10 pounds of muscle, refine his pitches and get to know some other Cubs prospects.
Since the players were typically wrapped up with work at the field by about Noon, they had the rest of the day to grill, golf or hang out. So Herz got close with other top players in the system like Pete Crow-Armstrong, Ed Howard, Koen Moreno and Owen Caissie.
When he was at the field, Herz worked with the coaching staff to perfect his pitch assortment heading into the 2022 season.
He averaged 92.5 mph on his fastball last season and the goal for 2022 is to increase that velocity to 94-95 mph.
Herz is also working on the shape and spin efficiency of his curveball.
“Last year, the spin efficiency was 55 and now it’s above 75 on average,” Herz said. “That’s been the big thing. It’s just the shape and we’ve achieved those goals for the curveball. That will be an exciting pitch to see out here.”
A higher spin efficiency means Herz is getting more total movement on the pitch. And more movement while holding velocity constant on a breaking ball will often result in more swing-and-miss. To imagine Herz with an even better repertoire heading into 2022 is terrifying for opposing hitters.
Hear more from Banner on Herz and the rest of the Cubs farm system: