Feature photo of DJ Herz by Rich Biesterfeld

We’ve seen a mini-flurry of promotions across the system over the past week or so, with Brandon Hughes receiving the first true call-up of the season when he got bumped to Iowa. That was followed by Nelson Maldonado making the same trip from Kodak to Des Moines and then Riley Martin and Dalton Stambaugh each moving up a level.

So that leaves us wondering — who is next? There are plenty of guys in the system performing admirably and there were a ton of dudes that were assigned to a level that they were already too good for from the get-go.

Let’s take a look at who I think the next five promotions on the farm will be.

Darius Hill, Tennessee to Iowa

2022 Stats: .348/.384/.478//.862, 11.0% K, 5.5% BB, 135 wRC+

I’m starting off this list with a quartet of players that currently call Double-A home. That team was abnormally stacked to begin the year, loaded with prospects that probably should have been assigned to the highest level of the minors from the beginning.

Darius Hill has flown way under radars, mostly because he has the profile of a guy that doesn’t typically generate a ton of buzz. He’s known for his hit tool, very rarely striking out but also walking at pretty low rates. His power is nearly non-existent but there is something to be said for prospects that just hit (see Maldonado).

Of this group of guys, I’m probably lowest on Hill’s ability to make a serious impact in Chicago, but you can’t deny the fact that he is far too advanced for Double-A.

Nelson Velazquez, Tennessee to Iowa

2022 Stats: .270/.370/.698//1.068, 38.4% K, 13.7% BB, 175 wRC+

Killer season in 2021? Check. Arizona Fall League MVP? Check. Added to the 40-man roster? Check. Came out hot in 2022? Check.

Nelly is still doing that thing again where he strikes out too much and doesn’t walk enough (although his walk numbers are significantly better this year, even above league average) but he’s continued to prove that those numbers don’t really matter when it comes to his offensive production. Pretty simply put, if you lead the system in nearly every statistic coming off a dominant year the season prior, you deserve to bump up a level.

Christopher Morel, Tennessee to Iowa

2022 Stats: .273/.342/.530//.873, 28.4% K, 6.8% BB, 133 wRC+

Morel was assigned to Tennessee even though he spent some time in Iowa last season toward the end of the year, which was strange. What’s not strange is the fact that he’s playing all over the diamond, doing so extremely well, and producing a slash line that we’ve become fairly familiar with from him.

He’s also on the 40-man roster and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if we see him getting decent playing time as a guy off the bench in Chicago in the last couple months of the season. But first, it would be nice to see him get that well-deserves promotion to Triple-A.

Bryan Hudson, Tennessee to Iowa

2022 Stats: 11.0 IP, 1.64 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, .184/.238/.263 opp. slash, 35.7% K, 7.1% BB, 66.7% GB

The former third round pick out of Alton proved he was too good for Tennessee last year, forcing the front office to give him a taste of Iowa as a test leading into his Rule Five eligible offseason. As we know, the Rule Five Draft never happened and so he went back into the Cubs farm system but was ridiculously assigned to Double-A.

He has been downright silly out of their pen, putting up ground ball and strikeout numbers that nearly warrant a call to Chicago instead of just Iowa. Get this man to Des Moines. Please!

DJ Herz, South Bend to Tennessee

2022 Stats: 14.0 IP, 1.29 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, .133/.235/.222 opp. slash, 39.2% K, 9.8% BB, 56.0% GB

Well I guess I’m done poaching from the Tennessee roster. I better deliver them some players to replenish the now vacant roster spots of Hill, Velazquez, Morel, and Hudson.

DJ Herz needs a challenge. He can throw his fastball down the middle and still blow it by hitters. His changeup can’t be touched. He is throwing his curve both in and out of the zone. He is even getting away with putting up dominant numbers in starts where his stuff doesn’t look all that great (for his standards).

Addressing the question of “when should a guy get a promotion?” is very nuanced and there are a multitude of factors that go into the decision. But the easiest answer is that when a guy doesn’t even look his best and still runs through a lineup, that’s when he shouldn’t be at that level anymore. Herz is ready for the upper levels of the minors. He needs the challenge. And I’m sure he’ll embrace the challenge as well as anyone in the system.