The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Jack Herman out of high school in New Jersey in the 30th round of the 2018 draft. He signed quickly and made a name for himself immediately. While playing in the Gulf Coast League that summer, Herman hit .340/.435/.489 in 37 games, with 14 extra-base hits and nearly as many walks as strikeouts (23/24 BB/SO ratio). The Pirates had him splitting his defensive time between center field and right field. He handled everything hit his way. It was a strong first impression and led to him skipping to Low-A ball early in the 2019 season.
Herman put up solid numbers in Greensboro last year. The BB/SO ratio (28:88 in 75 games) saw a step back, but he showed some decent power numbers, hitting 13 homers. He also picked up 11 outfield assists. That was all coming from a 19-year-old, who came from a cold weather state and missed most of his junior year with a shoulder injury. Going into the 2019 season, the Pirates had him bulk up a little to add power, while also working on his speed and agility. He may have been able to put up even better numbers if he didn’t suffer a hamstring injury in early April, which likely delayed his season debut.
This year Herman had a brief taste of Spring Training before the shutdown in mid-March. He arrived in Bradenton in late February and Spring Training closed down on March 12th. He didn’t get an invite to the Altoona training site this summer, which isn’t a big surprise. Most of the other players were either older, more advanced in the system or considered to be among the top prospects. It also wasn’t a big group, so there wasn’t room for everyone. A bit more surprising was not seeing him on the Instructional League roster this month.
Herman has been keeping busy with baseball though, continuing his training, while staying close to the game through lessons and coaching younger players. I had a chance to talk to him in between his hectic schedule at this time of year, seeing how he handled the unexpected time off, and how he stayed ready to play just in case something came up this summer, fall or possibly this winter.
“I’ve actually been handling the down time very well,” Herman said. “When we found out originally we were leaving to go home and the season was ending, of course like everyone else it was upsetting because it’s just a year/season taken away. But on the other end it was nice to actually enjoy a summer with my friends and family and get to experience a full summer outside of baseball.”
While Herman briefly enjoyed the time off, that itch to play baseball is strong.
“After a month or two of summer I did start to miss the game and everything about it, especially all of my friends in the [Pirates] org.”
Herman wasn’t playing baseball, but he was staying ready to play. Even now he’s staying prepared in case there’s an opportunity to play again before Spring Training of 2021. I asked him about any possible plans and that’s when the mention of winter ball came up.
“Through summer till now I’ve still been lifting and training and all that stuff. I haven’t heard anything about plans for our organization or anything like that. There’s rumors of winter ball circulating, but nothing exactly yet.”
As mentioned above, Herman was asked to put on some muscle last year before Spring Training. When he signed, his weight was around 178 pounds. In the GCL in the summer, it’s difficult to keep the weight on. You’re playing July/August games in the Florida sun, with rain afternoon that lasts just long enough to make the humidity unbearable. Over the 2018-19 off-season, he got up to 195 pounds on his 6’0″ frame. That led to the 13 homers in a half season last year. He didn’t stop there.
“I’ve been able to put a couple pounds of muscle on and I’m actually stronger and in better shape than ever,” Herman said. “My swing from Spring Training now has felt the best it’s felt in my life. I feel like I could go out tomorrow and be in mid-season form with my swing.”
All of the players I have talked to who didn’t get a chance to go to Altoona have similar stories. They stayed ready, continued to train and they want to see how their adjustments and improvements translate to game action. All of them didn’t kill time the same way during the down time, but the general idea was the same.
Herman has been working with younger players and it sounds like it could be a future calling for him after his playing days are over. This is what he would be doing under normal circumstances at this time of year. A normal Fall Instructional League would include mainly draft picks from 2020, international players over from the DSL for the first time and some injured young players making up for lost time. A few other players are usually sprinkled in, and some of them might involve position changes for the player. This year isn’t normal with the missed time, but the group also had to be somewhat limited due to social distancing criteria set up at the academy, which eliminated multiple players staying in the same room.
I expected Herman to be among the players there, but it appears that things are going well with his swing and conditioning, plus he’s staying busy with baseball full-time now. Before ending our conversation, I asked him to expand on the work he’s doing with younger players now.
“My work has been something that has kept me in the game a little bit more because I give lessons to younger kids and coach teams at the facility in my area,” Herman said. “I’ve been doing this for years now and I enjoy it just as much as playing. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with one of the biggest showcases in the country, called Best in the US. Nolan Mansfield is the one who runs the whole thing and is actually best friends with my brother and went to my high school, so that’s kind of how I got involved. I’ve been traveling the country the past couple months, working showcases for kids trying to go DII, DIII and JUCO. I really enjoy being able to instruct the players on the college and draft process. Really puts into perspective how much of an impact even us minor leaguers have on the world of baseball.”