PROSPECT REVIEW: DJ HERZ
Age on opening day 2024: 23
How acquired: Traded with Kevin Made from Cubs for Jeimer Candelario and cash in July 2023; originally drafted in eighth round by Cubs in 2019 from Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, N.C.
Ranking: No. 16 per MLB Pipeline, No. 25 per Baseball America
MLB ETA: 2024
* Projected by MLB Pipeline
Signing bonus: $500,000
2023 levels: Double-A Tennessee (Cubs) and Double-A Harrisburg
2023 stats: 3-3, 3.43 ERA, 22 G, 22 GS, 94 ⅓ IP, 67 H, 42 R, 36 ER, 5 HR, 57 BB, 133 SO, 7 HBP, 1.314 WHIP
Quotable: “A young left-handed pitcher at 22 years old in Double-A already. I think his succession, he's on track. We see him as a starting pitcher that has three pitches. He's got an out pitch right now with that changeup. He struck out a lot of guys in a level that's a tough level for a 22-year-old. The way our scouts portrayed him on the mound is aggressive, strike-throwing and attacks hitters. And those are all words that I like to hear when describing a pitcher. … You can never have enough good, talented tools and players that play in the middle of the field. We felt that we got two more to add to our system.” – Mike Rizzo after trade deadline
2023 analysis: Herz and Made were the two prospects the Nationals received at the trade deadline this year in their only move, sending Candelario to the Cubs.
With Herz as a left-handed pitcher and Made an elite defensive shortstop, Mike Rizzo and Co. clearly valued adding up the middle of the field.
Herz was 1-1 with a 3.97 ERA, 37 walks, 80 strikeouts and 1.424 WHIP in 14 starts at Double-A Tennessee in the Cubs system before coming to the Nats organization.
They immediately assigned the 22-year-old to Harrisburg, where he went 2-2 with a 2.55 ERA, one home run allowed, 20 walks, 53 strikeouts and 1.132 WHIP in 35 ⅓ innings over eight starts. He also posted a 13.5 strikeout-per-nine-innings rate.
The 5.1 walks-per-nine-innings rate he had with the Senators is something to improve upon, but he did a great job of keeping the ball in the yard.
While being named a Fall Star, Herz went 1-0 with a 3.71 ERA, nine walks, 25 strikeouts and 1.294 WHIP in 17 innings over five starts in the Arizona Fall League. He finished tied for third in the league in strikeouts.
2024 outlook: Herz made a lot of improvements after getting knocked around in his first taste of Double-A last year to the tune of a 1-4 record, 8.24 ERA and 1.800 WHIP in nine starts.
He also showed that he’s one of the few prospects that didn’t miss a beat when traded to a different organization in the middle of the season.
Where he has developed the most is the use of his changeup. Herz barely used it as a high school prospect from North Carolina, but now it’s his best pitch with a 65 grade on a 20-80 scale. He keeps it in the low 80s with fastball arm speed, vanishing at the plate.
Herz’s fastball is above average, sitting at 91-94 mph and topping out at 96 with late life. He struggled with his upper-70s spike curveball last year in Double-A, so he worked on his low-80s slider that has proven to fit better with his low arm slot.
His crossfire delivery with a long arm swing creates a lot of deception, but it also compromises his ability to stay within his mechanics and land pitches for strikes. The aforementioned high walk rate plus seven hit batters and 10 wild pitches this year are a result.
Scouts believe Herz is best suited as a reliever in the long term. But the Nats have no reason not to try him out as a starter with their lack of elite starting pitching prospects, especially in the southpaw department.
The Nationals selected Herz's contract last week to add him to the 40-man roster and protect him from next month's Rule 5 draft, along with fellow pitching prospects Cole Henry, Zach Brzykcy and Mitchell Parker.