9-9-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)
As soon as the Minor League Baseball season was officially canceled on Tuesday June 30th, 2020, fans, as well as scouts and amateur/professional experts, knew there was going to be an effect on development; especially on the individual level.
Not every player would have the opportunity or ability to participate in the group of the international baseball leagues that continued with either full or modified schedules, while others would fail to be added to alternate sites or fall instructional league roster for any number of reasons. And with many gyms being closed or being in an area without direct access to a pitcher, catcher, coach, etc., all too many Minor Leaguers were left without places to workout, receive firsthand instruction, get in live at bats or face direct competition in any meaningful way. For many this would equal approximately 18 months of missed experience and development.
Inevitably, when baseball did resume, plenty of players would return with an almost unlimited variety of adjustments to their game and/or changes to their physical appearance; including-but not limited to-a new swing, extra muscle, an additional pitch, different arm slots, appearing more lean, running faster or logging slower sprint times. In some circumstances these transformations would immediately be labeled as positive or negative; and explained away as due to the amount of and/or lack of effort. Moreover, for some there was no noticeable change, which would also end up being categorized as good or bad, or identified as being caused by hard work or laziness.
Yet, whatever the cause/reasoning(s) behind how each individual showed up to their team’s facility, in the end, judgement always comes down to the lowest common denominator of performance; so, naturally it was somewhat of a waiting game to see how a player executed, once he was back on the field in an actual competitive setting.
By now we already know some Pirates Prospects, like Matthew Fraizer, came out of the gate firing on all cylinders; while others, including Jack Herman-a player who I was high on entering the 2020 season, as evidenced him being incorporated into my original prospect series for the SI/Maven Inside The Pirates website-that struggled from the word go.
Initially drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 30th Round of the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft, 894th overall, the 18 year old, 6’0’’ 190 pound outfielder from Eastern High School in New Jersey was coaxed away from his commitment to the University of Maryland by a $50,000 signing bonus; and the opportunity to start his professional career, which ultimately began with his assignment to the GCL(Gulf Coast League) Pirates less than three weeks after his selection.
In his first 37 games and across 169 plate appearances, Herman would go on to slash .340/.435/.489, with 2 HRs and an almost identical walk to strike out rate (13.6% and 14.2%). Due to this level of performance, Herman was rewarded with a spot on the Baseball America Top 20 Prospect List for the Pirates, as well as being named to the GCL All-Star Team.
Ultimately this immediate success at Pirate City, would also earn him a pretty quick promotion to the Greensboro Grasshoppers-Pittsburgh’s Low-A Affiliate at the time-the following season at only 19 years of age; approximately 2.5 years younger than the average player at that level.
During his year with the Grasshoppers, Herman did struggle at times. A 29.3% strike out rate obviously left a lot to be desired, but fortunately he was able to make up for it in almost every other facet of his game; both at the plate and in the field. On the season he posted a .804 OPS, a 134 wRC+ and an .208 ISO to go along with 13 HRs. While on defense he split his time almost right down the middle between LF and RF committing only 4 errors the entire year, completing 130 putouts and being a part of 11 outfield assists in 612 inning; allowing his strong arm and speed to guide him at each of these positions.
It was at this point in his career, where I caught up with the 29th ranked Pirates Prospect according to MLB Pipeline; predicting that he would more than likely find himself back in Greensboro, with the expectation of him working his way up to then High-A Bradenton by the end of the season. This was in part due to his age, but also because of the other outfield prospects that were more advanced, and were not all guaranteed the bump up to Altoona after finishing the 2019 season in Bradenton- #4 Travis Swaggerty, #5 Cal Mitchell and #15 Lolo Sanchez
Which brings us up to near present day, or at the very least the beginning of the current Minor League Baseball season, when Herman was assigned to the Greensboro Grasshoppers yet again. Although, this time it was a promotion to High-A; a situation that did not turn out so well for him.
Through the first 15 games and in 52 at bats, Herman accumulated 6 hits-3 of them for extra based-while striking out 26 times and walking only twice; good for a .115/.148/.173 slash line, and resulting in the Pirates hitting reset button on his season by sending him down to Pirate City on June 6th with the FCL (Florida Complex League) set to begin on June 28th.
For nearly an entire month-from his last game on June 2nd to July 1st-Herman was able to work on getting right with himself, and hopefully getting back on track before his debut with the FCL Pirates Gold. Luckily, this is exactly what happened.
Over 8 games in a Pirates Gold Uniform, Herman batted .360 with a 1.168 OPS and a couple homers; rapidly causing the need for a promotion back to a familiar level (Low A), but in a new site (Bradenton); where his re–established success continued to a certain degree.
Since joining the Marauders on July 13th, he has proceeded to slash .274/.346/.532 with 12 homers in 186 at bats; earning the Low-A Southeast League Player-of-the-Month award for August by leading all hitters in runs (18) and RBI (23), finishing second in both batting average (.326) and hits (31) and winding up third in the league in home runs (five), slugging (.547) and OPS (.928).
Unfortunately for Herman, in spite of these achievements, his K rate has found itself climbing back up over 30%; which he will eventually have to get in check if he wants to make a triumphant return to Greensboro at the beginning of 2022.