Well, these were mortal locks, eh?
Here’s the good news: Triple-A outfielder Brennen Davis and High-A strikeout artist and lefty DJ Herz have been named the Cubs Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year for 2021!
Congratulations to OF Brennen Davis, the Buck O'Neil Cubs Minor League Player of the Year, and LHP DJ Herz, the Vedie Himsl Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year! pic.twitter.com/OWjrvB9vRz
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 7, 2021
This is the second consecutive win for Brennen Davis, who took home the Cubs Player of the Year honors in 2019 (remember, there was no minor league season last year). But this season was even more impressive. Despite starting late with an injury, Davis made his way from High-A up to Triple-A, where his first 50 PAs went about as well as anyone could ever hope.
… after just about two weeks at High-A, he was bumped up a level, becoming one of the youngest overall players at Double-A this season. And although his overall performance at Double-A oscillated over his 76 games (316 PAs), particularly as he faced tougher strikeout stuff from more talented pitchers as the season went on, his final line with the Smokies was plenty strong: .252/.367/.474 (135 wRC+). And that was enough for the prospect ranking industry to bump him up to near-unanimous top-20 prospect status throughout the league, and for the Cubs to call him up to Triple-A Iowa, where he just passed the 50 PAs mark last night.
So how’s it going at Iowa so far? About as good as you could have ever hoped. But it’s not just the results of his performance, it’s also the shape.
Through 53 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, Brennen Davis is slashing .333/.434/.667, which is roughly 90% better than the league average hitter.
Davis is up to 68 plate appearances now and is slashing .268/.397/.536 (150 wRC+) overall with a 16.2% walk rate and a 22.1% strikeout rate. He was already one of the youngest players at Double-A, so you can imagine the age difference a level up. Most prospect rankings have Davis in the top-20 range, but given his successful work at Triple-A, his age, his position, and his profile, I think we’ll start seeing more in the 10-15 range over the winter.
We got deep into the performance and his expectations for next season recently, if you’re interested. And in short, I would expect to see him up with the big league Cubs sometime next season.
Oh, and I almost forgot: Davis was the Futures Game MVP this season.
As for Herz, well, what a season. If you missed it, this Cubs left-handed starter posted a 40.4% strikeout rate in A-Ball and kept it up upon his promotion to High-A (40.6%). He even managed to bring his walk rate down under 10% at High-A, leading to 2.81 ERA (2.65 FIP) over three starts and 16.0 IP.
And if you’ve been following along with Bryan’s “Five Stars of the Cubs Farm” series this year, you’ve seen Herz’s name plenty of times. Even more recently, he was named the 10th best prospect in Low-A East by Baseball America.
Here’s part of what Bryan had to say at the time:
You didn’t have to watch much of Herz this year to see how tough he was on hitters. The delivery, arm slot, extension, and pitch movement were clearly too much for hitters (hence Herz’s obscene strikeout totals). The dude posted a strikeout rate over 40% at both Myrtle Beach and South Bend. At just 20, and having come into the season with almost no pro experience, it’s not like he was too established for the guys at Low-A or High-A, either.
Herz will rank as one of the few best Cubs pitching prospects this offseason, and then will likely head back to High-A South Bend to open the 2022 season, with a good shot to get the bump in-year to Double-A. He was signed way over slot as an 8th rounder back in 2019, so good job so far, Cubs. And good job, D.J. Herz!
Herz is a huge developmental success for the Cubs farm at the moment and could/should reach Double-A next year. He and Brennen Davis are two very bright spots in the Cubs’ emerging minor league system.