As fans await Minor League Baseball to (finally) return, players from across the organization train at the South Bend Alternate Site (Site B) and in Arizona at the team complex. After such a long time away from the fields, players can finally showcase the hard work they have put in to training. Pitchers that built up their repertoire at home are now facing live hitters in bullpen sessions. I spoke with four pitchers who shared how their spring camp is going.
The last time Davidjohn (DJ) Herz provided an update on his work during the shutdown, he said he had put on some serious muscle and looked forward to seeing where his pitches were sitting. Bryan Smith of Bleacher Nation provided an update that Herz who he says now looks like “a safety”, referencing the football position. Though it’s early in his throwing program, DJ Herz is already sitting 93-95 mph in two inning live sessions. Even more exciting, Herz has been able to showcase the spike-curve he worked to develop with the Cubs pitch design department along with fellow Cubs prospect, Chris Clarke. According to DJ, his spike-curveball is looking sharp, but the next step will be working to command his off speed pitches. In April 15th’s live session he faced 6 batters with 3 Ks and 2 walks.
You can count Chris Clarke among the pitchers who entered spring camp with five pitches. Alongside, Riley Thompson, Ryan Jensen, Michael McAvene, among others, Clarke has both a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball, a plus spike-curve, and a changeup. What Clarke is most proud of during the shutdown was the development of a cutter, which separates him from the other named pitchers who throw sliders. According to Clarke, that cutter is “banging at the moment”. He is very excited about the progress. Clarke is already a fascinating guy to watch in this upcoming minor league season. He’s training as a starter and should have an opportunity to log innings right away with his arsenal.
Chris Clarke will be featured in an upcoming episode of
The Cubs signing Joe Nahas to a $135,000 deal after he went undrafted was one of the most surprising moments about the 2019 draft. Nahas was dominating the Cape Cod League (CCBL) with 27 K in 18 innings to only 6 walks when he signed the deal. Only a few weeks after pitching for the Cotuit Kettleers of the CCBL, Nahas found his way to Arizona and then later Eugene where his mid 90s fastball and above-average slider led to 20 K in 15 2/3 innings. He now is in spring camp with four pitches. According to Joe, “From a pitches standpoint I’ve added a 12/6 curveball and a Split/change to go along with the slider and fastball.” Surprisingly the curveball is not a spike-curve like so many pitchers in the organization have adopted (see below for Joe’s curveball grips).
Chris Allen may not have the name recognition of several others in the Cubs’ loaded 2018 draft class, but he’s a very intriguing pitcher to follow this season. Allen was drafted in the 20th round our of Marin Community College. The projectable lefty has a sharp curveball, but hasn’t been able to log a lot of innings due to an injury suffered last year. During the shutdown, Allen tore his rotator cuff and labrum. A daunting injury, he set out to work on improving his mechanics to reduce stress on his shoulder. The work he put in appears to have made all the difference. He’s building up slowly this spring after having an MRI on his shoulder (it came back clean according to Allen), and he’s throwing pain-free for “the first time in 2 years”. When fans see him on the mound, they will be able to see a new and improved changeup, which Allen has developed after talking with big leaguer, Adam Morgan.
“I should be facing hitters early next week. I’ve been talking with Adam Morgan on pitch grips to develop my change up and fastball to be better pitches. Nothing too exciting because it’s a slow build up but hopefully in the next couple weeks I’ll be fully ready to go in games.”
A special thanks to DJ Herz, Chris Clarke, Joe Nahas, and Chris Allen for sharing their progress during spring camp. Best wishes to all four this upcoming season.