Among the main requests of Cubs fans, when they hear about a new player, is “Can he pitch?” This refrain works best, apparently, when the player is a hitter. Nonetheless, in left-handed reliever and North Carolina-committed Davidjohn (“D.J.”) Herz, the Cubs added a prep arm that may well help the club as a reliever, if you're willing to be patient. His 95 mile per hour fastball and potential swing-and-miss slider are developing as we speak.
When discussing a prep arm, the college commitment is a viable starting point. North Carolina is the same in baseball as in basketball, a valid blue-chip school. When baseball-playing high-school seniors commit to Chapel Hill, they often reach campus. An eighth-round announcement doesn't usually dissuade an Atlantic Coast Conference arrival. The Cubs, though, have gotten Herz to sign on the line for far less than it took with right-handed pitcher Dillon Maples, who was also a commit to the Tobacco Road school:
8th-rder D.J. Herz signs with @Cubs for $500k (pick 252 value = $162,700). North Carolina HS LHP, already up to 95 mph with more velocity to come, gets ugly swings with his slider. North Carolina recruit. @MLBDraft— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) June 14, 2019
With Herz, there are two rather stark differences from Maples. Herz is a southpaw, and starting really isn't in the equation. He's a leverage reliever, if everything falls right. That he may have a change-up muddies that waters a bit, but he's likely a two "swing-and-miss pitch” guy, so expect the Cubs to progress in that fashion.
Herz is a long-term piece, and likely a reliever. What that assumes is stops about every step of the way. He's not likely to be hurried, or rushed, because of school alliance or club need. He's going to be developed in the best method possible. This season will see him toss five or six times for an Arizona League squad, probably no more than an inning per outing. His numbers, whether good or bad, will indicate very little. Whether he's on the good side of a 3.00 ERA, or the ugly side of a 5.00 ERA, his gig will be to get Into a handful of games. The more important work will be the side-sessions with coaches to upgrade his arsenal. In about a year, his stints should become, hopefully, a bit longer and more regular with Eugene in the Northwest League, with a possible call-up to the South Bend Cubs in the Midwest League.
Regardless what impatience desires, Herz is a long-term piece. Whatever protocol is for developing a quality leverage reliever over a three-to-four year window, or even more, that's the plan for Herz. In prior generations, the Cubs sought the quick payout from young draft choices. In almost every case, it backfired. With Herz, as with about anyone else in the development pipeline, "gimme gimme" and "make it snappy" are being ignored as foolish and reckless strategies. Herz figures to be best developed using the so-called Pitch Lab as a classroom, and actual game environments as extensions thereof.
Estimated times of arrival end up being blunt responses like "When it's time," or "After the boxes are checked." The goal is the MLB club, but only after the many preliminary steps have been cautiously tested. If Herz is still doing well once he reaches Double-A, he might be worth getting excited about. Until then, a measured approach about how to develop a seventy or eighty innings per season reliever discussion applies. I've never followed the Cubs development plan on one of those, before. Herz will be a bit of a first, with a nice payout if it works. Herz can pitch, hopefully, all the way to Wrigley. Here’s to patience paying off.