DJ Herz – Picture via Tennessee Smokies

As most of you know, DJ Herz is one of North Side Bound‘s most favorite prospects. I talked to him several times last year when he was with South Bend and he is an extremely nice and thoughtful young man with an excellent baseball IQ. But the last year has not been a smooth road for DJ. After moving to Tennessee in late July of 2022, DJ faced some prolonged struggles for the first time in his career. After missing the first month of the 2023 season due to a minor injury, DJ looks like him he has found himself again.

The Cubs took DJ in the ninth round of the 2019 MLB Draft. He got in six games in Mesa that summer and had a 2.61 ERA. Over the pandemic, I watched him quite a bit on Twitter as he posted video after video of him working out. So it was no surprise in 2021 that he shoved at both Myrtle Beach and South Bend. He would win the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year with a 3.31 ERA over 20 starts. He struck out 131 batters in 81 innings. Not too shabby of a year for a 20-year-old. 

Heading into 2022, DJ’s goal was to win back-to-back pitcher of the year awards. It was a lofty goal, and it looked like he had a chance heading into July. In 63.2 innings, he struck out 99 batters for South Bend and had a batting average against of .150. It was in Peoria in July that both he and Jordan Wicks were promoted in the middle of the week and they left in the middle of the night.

And that’s where the struggles began.

Simply put, DJ has always missed a lot of bats, but he also had struggled with walks from time-to-time along with having high pitch counts. Part of that comes from just striking out a lot of guys as it does take a lot of pitches sometimes. But in Double-A, that was taken up a notch as those hitters were a little bit more polished and patient and did not chase his curveball out of the zone nor his fastball. In 31.2 innings, he had an 8.41 ERA and was even put on the development list for a short time. 

So, when 2023 season came about, DJ was ready to get back in it, but an injury in training camp set him back a month. And to be honest, that may have been the best thing for him. Because since he’s been back, he looks pretty close to the DJ we saw in 2021 in the first half of 2022. Even more so this month.

It basically comes down to this – throwing more strikes.

In seven games, he has a 3.42 ERA in 2023. And that’s only getting better. In May he had a 5.14 ERA in 14 innings. He struck out 21 and walked 12, which was still a little high. But since the calendar turned to June, he’s made four starts with a total of 17.1 IP and he’s where he struck out 22 already and walked just 9. One of the key signs to his improvement is that his ground ball rate has doubled this month and that has improved from start to start. In other words – infield outs.

When you’re dealing with a starting pitcher, one thing you really like to see is consistency from month to month. You also want to see improvement from month to month, especially in the minors. And that’s what we’re going to be watching here at North Side Bound in the next 2 and 1/2 months. Is DJ going to be that consistent guy from start to start? Right now, things are looking really good. He’s throwing strikes, his walks are down, he’s getting more ground balls, things are turning up DJ all over the place.

Let’s hope it continues!