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Hard Work Pays Off For DJ Herz



As MLB went into shutdown mode and the possibility of a 2020 minor league season faded away, lefthander DJ Herz tried to focus on what he could control and make the best of a bad situation.

Herz returned home to North Carolina and rigorously followed the workout plan designed by the Cubs. He found a local gym that allowed him to develop a routine. He wanted to get bigger and stronger, recognizing the risks in ramping up again after a lost season.

Before spring training was scuttled in March 2020, Herz had learned how to throw a spike-curveball and found a changeup grip in Arizona, giving him potentially new wrinkles to his game.

“I wanted to make sure that I stayed on top of my stuff,” Herz said. “I knew if I slacked off just a little bit the chance of injury would increase. I was training like six days a week, just getting after it.”

It showed throughout a breakthrough 2021 season in which Herz recorded a 3.31 ERA in 20 starts, 17 of them for Low-A Myrtle Beach. The 20-year-old finished with 131 strikeouts in 81.2 innings.

He threw the first five innings of a combined no-hitter for Myrtle Beach on June 23, earned a promotion to High-A South Bend in September and captured the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year award.

While this was an uneven year for the farm system overall, the Cubs appreciated the growth in Herz, who developed a three-pitch mix, a more fluid delivery and a better sense for making in-game adjustments.

Herz was a three-sport athlete at Sanford High in Fayetteville, N.C., who chose professional instruction and structure when he turned down the opportunity to play quarterback for North Carolina.

The Cubs saw that natural athleticism when they drafted Herz in the eighth round in 2019 and signed him for an above-slot $500,000. It’s starting to come together in an organization that absolutely needs more pitching.

“I think I did all the right things in 2020,” Herz said. “I put the hard work in and it paid off.”

CUBBYHOLE

— Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, who does not have a deep background in player development, made that area the focus in his search for a general manager, hiring Carter Hawkins away from Cleveland, an organization widely known as a pitching factory. One of Hawkins’ primary responsibilities will be overseeing a farm system bolstered by this year’s sell-off at the trade deadline.

“It balances out our front office,” Hoyer said. “The single most important thing we’re going to do over the next three to five years is going to be player development. As an industry that’s where people are pouring resources right now to get an edge.”

— The Cubs don’t know if 22-year-old lefthander Brailyn Marquez projects as a starter or a reliever, with Hoyer calling him a “pitching weapon” for next year after health issues, primarily involving his left shoulder, wiped out his 2021 season.

“Right now, he’s healthy and throwing and ready to go,” Hoyer said during his end-of-season news conference. “We’re trying to time his pitching up with this spring. There’s no point in ramping him up, having him throw a ton right now, shutting him back down and doing that again, so we’re trying to time that effectively.”

NL Central Prospect Notebook

National League Central Prospect Notebook For June

Our major league correspondents file a prospect report for each National League Central organization, headlined by a Brewers lefthander who has recovered his power stuff.

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