I just love the pressure. Honestly, I love to perform better when it’s the big games, and it’s stressful games. And it’s being put in the situations that most people will fold. I love those.Davidjohn Herz
A special thanks to Davidjohn Herz for taking the time for an interview with.
Davidjohn (also goes by DJ) Herz came into the organization in the 8th round of the 2019 draft. Unlike previous recent drafts, the Cubs placed increased emphasis upon upside at the risk of rawness and/or prior injury. Herz represented the former as clips available leading up the draft showcased projectability and a three-pitch mix that was was far more about “flashing” above-average “stuff” than repeating it on the mound. The Cubs identified Herz as an ideal pitcher to bring into the player development system with the upside as an impact pitcher who features a bulldog mentality on and off the mound.
The clip (from 2019 footage) provides an important look into progress that Davidjohn had made in the Cubs system on all three of his pitches, but they don’t tell the whole story. According to DJ (and even the Assistant GM and Vice President of Pitching, Craig Breslow), he’s made enormous progress with his pitching mechanics. “Even [Craig] Breslow came up to me one day in spring training like, ‘Did you work with a pitching coach or trainer over the offseason?” Because your mechanics are looking way better than what they did from your first season’.” Herz said during an interview with Ivy Futures.
Herz attributes the improvements in his mechanics to focusing solely on baseball after being a three-sport athlete in high school. “I played basketball. I played football at very high levels. And now I’m putting all my focus on baseball. So I think it’s really helping me a lot.” Just like countless players across baseball affiliations, the lost 2020 robbed critical player development opportunities, but count DJ among those that used his time wisely. When DJ was drafted he was a svelte 175 lbs. and reported to spring training in 2020 at 185 lbs. But now, Davidjohn is rocking at 200 lbs. after adding even more muscle. “Because fortunately, this COVID period, [it] did a lot of good things for me, which I needed. I needed to get a lot stronger, I needed to gain weight.” Herz said.
However reshaping his body is only the first step to prepare for the 2021 season. Pitch development is critical to Herz competing at the next levels. DJ’s pitch mix in 2019 featured an improving change-up, albeit one that lagged behind his fastball and breaking ball. It appears there is significant improvement in the offering during DJ’s throwing sessions. According to Herz, “One thing that I’ve also been working on the offseason is my changeup, just commanding it. It’s got very good movement. It’s just I need to get command. But it’s coming along really good. And I picked it up really quickly.”
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In addition to the change-up, you can count Davidjohn among the spike-curve adopters in the Cubs organization. “We’ve been working around with the curveball in spring training, which changed it from a regular curve to a spike curve now. And we’re trying to get it [from a] 10 to 4 [shape] now, trying to get to 11-5, 12-6.” Herz said. “And that’s coming along very good. I got buddies helping me from like [Cubs pitching prospect] Chris Clarke, who’s been working on me with that.” Cubs prospect hounds will no-doubt recognize Chris Clarke’s name-dropped in there. Clarke was a fellow draftee from the 2019 draft who features an impressive curveball. MLB pipeline gives it a 65 grade on the 20-80 scale (better than a “plus” pitch) and has this to say about the offering, “Clarke’s hammer curveball ranks as the best in the system and is effective against both left-handers and right-handers with its powerful downward break.” Herz was very gracious to Clarke for his help in developing the pitch. If DJ can incorporate anywhere near the shape and action of Clarke’s curveball, it should be a plus offering.
In a clear example of burying the lede, DJ was seriously optimistic about an increase in velocity on his fastball. He posted recent video of him hitting 102 on a crow-hop/”pull-down”. Those type of exercises are used by agencies like Driveline to increase velocity. Typically velocity readings from pull-downs are 2-3 mph faster than on the mound. Due to a COVID precaution during instructs, he doesn’t know where he’s currently throwing, but in spring training, he was able to experience the fabled “pitch lab”. With the caveat that there was likely some adrenaline in play due to throwing in front of the front office, according to DJ, he’s showcasing consistent velocity. “I only got to throw [there] two times in spring training. And each time I didn’t throw a pitch under 92. And I was sitting 93-95 just in the bullpen in the lab.” Herz said. DJ went on later to provide a fastball goal for 2021, “I’m hoping by next season, I’m at 97-98.”
Perhaps what I was most struck by in my interaction with Davidjohn was his tenacious mentality and will to improve himself. Baseball is a game of many more failures before successes. The response in handling challenges helps to determine the level of player he can become. DJ outlined his goals for 2021. “For me, it’s just showing everybody that, how bad I want it. And that, and just, I mean, just going out there and doing what I do. I just love, I just love the pressure. Honestly, I love to perform better when it’s the big games and it’s stressful games. And it’s being put in the situations that most people will fold. I love those.” Herz said. “Just do what I do and focus on what I’ve been working for. And all the hard work will pay off.” Cubs fans should look forward to seeing Davidjohn Herz in the big games.
Check out the full interview