Good morning! Today is the second of a series of three articles recognizing outstanding performances in the Cubs’ minor league system. On Monday, Cubs Den named their Short Season Pitcher and Player of the Year. Now, we turn our attention to pitching.
Minor League Pitcher of the Year: DJ Herz, LHP
Prior to the 2021 season, there was great hope for the pitching prospects beginning to rise through he Cubs organization. But injuries set back top prospects in lefties Brailyn Marquez and Jack Patterson, as well as right-handers Kohl Franklin, Riley Thompson, and Michael McAvene. In addition, high profile prospects such as Ryan Jensen, Cory Abbott, Burl Carraway, and Richard Gallardo all had uneven seasons.
That left the competition wide open, and 20-year old left-hander DJ Herz stepped up.
Selected in the 8th round of the 2019 draft, Herz had only 10.1 innings in his career with the lost 2020 season. The native of North Carolina was said to have one of the most electric arms as a high school pitcher in the 2019 draft. However, there where concerns over whether he would sign a professional contract. When the Cubs offered what would be considered fourth round money, Herz inked the deal.
As an 18-year old, Herz had a somewhat nondescript debut in the rookie league. While he posted a 2. 61 ERA, there was a rather high 1.742 WHIP and only 8 strikeouts.
Limited to the Cubs’ pitching camp in the 2020 instructional league, no one knew what to expect of Herz coming into this season.
Beginning 2021 with Low-A Myrtle Beach, Herz was eased into a starting role. Tossing only 12 innings in four May starts, the lefty allowed only one earned run ands struck out 20.
Then in his sixth start of the season, Herz gave up 9 earned runs in 2.2 innings. For the rest of the season, Herz would never give up half that amount in any appearance, nor toss so few innings at any one time. The 20-year old would go on to make 17 starts for the Pelicans before being promoted to High-A South Bend in September. After 3 more starts for the SB Cubs, Herz would end up a combined 4-4 with a 3.31 ERA, 1.053 WHIP, and 131 strikeouts against 44 walks in 81.2 innings.
With good size at 6’2″- 175 lbs., Herz still has room to grow and add to his mid-90’s fastball. Herz also has a low-80’s slider and a spike curve, while he needs to further develop his change-up.