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Herrmann Living A Dream In The Minors

Herrmann Living A Dream In The Minors
October 30, 2008
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This is an article from September 2007, but with Herrmann being Rule 5 eligible I thought some who missed it on the first time around may be interested in it. In the coming weeks, I'll continue to post several more of these older articles that were written before this blog began a year ago.

Behind door number one you have an Ivy League education with a degree in economics, and a job lined up out of college to make over $100,000 a year. Behind door number two, you have a longshot professional baseball career as an undrafted free agent where you make what amounts to peanuts, live in small apartments with several other players, eat bad food daily, and endure long, uncomfortable bus rides from city to city.

So, given those two scenarios, you would most likely opt for door number one right?

Not Kinston right-handed pitcher Frank Herrmann. Herrmann is a Harvard graduate with a degree in economics where he had several well-paying jobs lined up for him upon graduation. In lieu of a business career that is now in a holding pattern, Herrmann opted for the dream of a baseball career and now is one of the more promising young pitchers in the Indians system.

"For me it is a no-brainer," said Herrmann. "I have roommates who are working in New York City doing investment banking making over $100,000. And, I have other guys who are taking two years off and traveling around Europe. I think I kind of got the in-between where I am getting to do something and pursue a dream and at the same time still have fun and travel around. First and foremost I am in this to try and make it to the major leagues, absolutely. I mean, if you can do that why wouldn't you? I think it is the best job in the world. I am only 23 right now, and I won't be 24 until May 30th next year so I have plenty of time to sit in a cubicle or do whatever they want so I am not in a rush. I'll play as long as they will let me."

Maybe Herrmann made the right choice, as he put up a solid season in Kinston this year going 11-5 with a 4.01 ERA in 26 starts, logging 146 innings and allowing 163 hits and 28 walks while striking out 88. The solid season in Kinston piggybacks a good debut season for him in Lake County last year when he went 4-6 with a 3.90 ERA in 26 starts, logging 122.1 innings and allowing 122 hits and 47 walks while striking out 89. Looking back on his season, Herrmann feels he put forth a good effort.

"You know, it [went] well," said Herrmann. "I was happy to be here and be a starter at the beginning of the season, and I just wanted to throw as many innings as I can and I've reached new heights with that. I made the all-star team which was good. I had an up and down second half where I had some of my best games and worst games. I [tried] to finish up strong and be as consistent as I can and get deep into games."

Herrmann was actually more heavily recruited coming out of high school to play football. He played quarterback and free safety in football, and schools like Cincinnati, Rutgers, and a couple of the Ivy League and Patriot League schools like Lehigh recruited him. At Harvard, Herrmann was supposed to play both football and baseball, but ended up just playing baseball because of the demands academically.

Even though Herrmann was not heavily scouted in college, at times he found himself wondering "what could be" and if he would have a chance to play professionally. After a stretch of dominant performances in the middle of his junior season the possibility of taking his craft to another level and succeeding started to seem more and more like a possibility.

"My junior year I had a stretch where I had a perfect game through the sixth inning and I ended up throwing a one hitter against Cornell, and the next week I threw a two-hit shutout against Yale," said Herrmann. "So I kind of got rolling and I started wondering 'what if I was at a different school, what if I got a chance at working on pitching all the time without the hitting and the school work?' I was intrigued by the possibility, but it was never something like 'this is going to happen.'"

When the 2005 First Year Player Draft came and went, Herrmann did not receive a phone call from anyone. However, later that summer Herrmann ended up signing with the Indians as an undrafted free agent. Playing at an Ivy League school, you do not get much recognition from scouts, so Herrmann never really thought he would be considered for the draft, but still often dreamed of being picked up by a major league team. After going out on a whim to play in the Hawaii Summer League, an Indians scout (Don Lyle) noticed him and signed Herrmann shortly after.

"At Harvard we didn't have many scouts there as it wasn't a baseball factory," recalled Herrmann. "It wasn't as if I went to LSU or some school on the West Coast where guys get talked about all the time. There is a different focus at Harvard, so it wasn't necessarily something that was at the forefront of all of my discussions. So, I wasn't disappointed, I thought I maybe had a shot, but I was hurt a little bit my junior year as I had some bicep tendonitis. I was shutdown when we went down to Florida to play, which was an opportunity I maybe would have been seen."

"Our Ivy League season is really short where we play two doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, so it is a shorter season, so you only get like ten starts and I only threw something like 65-70 innings. I was going to do an investment banking job in Charlotte actually, and I found out about this Hawaii Summer League and our assistant coach was signing guys, so I said I would love to go live out in Hawaii for six weeks for free. I mean who wouldn't? And I started pitching and felt strong over there, throwing harder and pitching well, and I think it helped being away from school and having baseball as the focus. There was an Indians scout there, West Coast scout Don Lyle, who signed about four other guys in the locker room. He signed me, and worked out the school deal. The sticking point was to allow me to go back to school two consecutive falls rather than Instructional League [so I could finish my degree]. So I did that, and I just wanted to play baseball as I didn't mind not being captain my senior year or missing my season."

This is not the only time the Indians have dipped into the Ivy League to nab a pitching prospect as an undrafted free agent. They did the same thing last year with right-hander Erik Stiller out of Princeton. One has to think this is not merely coincidence, as the Indians of late have made some popular undrafted free agent signings with guys considered to have high aptitude, going all the way back to outfielder Brian Barton in 2004 when he came out of Miami University with a major in aerospace engineering.

Also, several of the Indians front office personnel went to Ivy League schools and played sports there. General Manager Mark Shapiro played football at Princeton, and Director of Baseball Operations Mike Chernoff was the team captain and shortstop at Princeton. So, when it comes to playing sports in the Ivy League and still adhering to the demands academically, the Indians know full well how difficult it is to be a non-scholarship student athlete In the Ivy League.

"I don't know for sure, but it could be 'hey these guys are pretty good players too so let's give them a shot'," said Herrmann. "Maybe they feel that the players have a high aptitude and can makeup for a lack of experience they didn't get while playing at a big time school. That very well could be a part of it, and it could be a coincidence too. But, look at some of the guys they drafted too, as you have Jensen Lewis who went to Vanderbilt and some other guys from good schools. It could be an underlying factor."

Since coming into the Indians organization, Herrmann's biggest strength has been his ability to throw strikes. If any pitcher can consistently throw strikes, that guy will make a lot of fans in the front office as they preach a pitch-to-contact philosophy. You'll also make fellow esteemed writer Steve Buffum happy as well, as he likes guys who throw strikes. Of course, in addition to throwing strikes you have to have some ability, otherwise you are just a batting practice pitcher.

"I think my biggest strength is my ability to throw strikes," said Herrmann when asked to assess his abilities. "I haven't walked a lot of guys this year, so I have been able to keep myself out of trouble and command the ball a little bit. So, I put the pressure on the hitters by throwing strikes. Knock on wood I have been healthy, and that may be another one of my strengths is durability. Durability and getting stronger as the year has gone on are things I am proud of."

Herrmann does not overpower hitters, as his fastball sits in the low 90s, and he does not have outstanding secondary stuff. He is a command-control guy, and relies on his intelligence as a pitcher and his command in getting hitters out.

"Usually I am 88-92 MPH with the fastball, and I'll touch 93," said Herrmann. "Last year I touched 94 a couple times. I changed my breaking ball as I used to throw a slider and curve, and now I am working on an in-between pitch that is about an 80 MPH breaking ball. The thing that is going to separate me from being a long term bullpen guy or staying a starter - and I want to stay a starter - is going to be the focus of my offseason in working on that pitch. I also throw a changeup that I feel more comfortable throwing to lefties because of its movement. The other thing I am working on is being to throw it to righties, the right-on-right changeup stuff. I have been focusing more lately in throwing my two-seam fastball in to righties to get them off the plate. This year I fell into the pattern of throwing fastballs away predominantly. Being that there are only eight teams in the league, guys started to catch on and I had to make adjustments."

One of the hardest things for a starting pitcher to do is to keep mentally sharp between starts. As fans, we often do not think about this, but of a teams 140 games a starting pitcher maybe pitches in 27 of them, which means the other 112 games he does not play and is simply an observer.

"I sit in the dugout and eat a lot of sunflower seeds and chew a lot of gum," joked Herrmann when asked what he does the day after a start. "I run poles and lift, do bucket for batting practice which is the worst part of the day because as guys throw it in you walk around picking up balls. It is tough because if you have that bad start you have to sit there and mull it over for four days. It is like playing football where if you have a bad game you have a hell week of practice and then play a game a week later, where if you are a baseball position player and go 0-for-4 with four strikeouts at the plate you can go 3-for-4 with two doubles and a home run the next night. It's a little more pressure because out of 140 games you are only out there about 27 times."

Still, there is a routine for starters to follow on their off-days. It can get repetitive and boring for many, but to move up another level and ultimately make it to the big leagues what happens during those off-days is just as important as what happens on the days that they pitch. Adjustments can be made during bullpen sessions in-between starts where recommendations from the pitching coach or a pitching coordinator can be put into practice, and starters also have the opportunity to workout and chart games.

"Basically, it is just body maintenance where you run and lift and do a lot of stretching," said Herrmann when asked about what he does during his four off-days. "The second day is your bullpen day where I throw 35 pitches and do a shoulder program. The third day you lift again, a little bit lighter and do different things, and do some more running with half poles or sprints. On the fourth day, which is the day before your next start, is the day I will come in the latest and just relax. That day is light catch and light sprints at 20 yards, about ten of them. That's the day you really watch the game more and get in tune. You watch pitch-by-pitch and figure out what you will throw, and you watch the hitters more."

After playing in Lake County last year, and experiencing a full season in Kinston this year, Herrmann notes that the difference is largely in the area and setup of the facility. As a player, he welcomes the isolated atmosphere that Kinston provides, as he can better concentrate on what he needs to do to improve.

"Both places have their good things," said Herrmann. "A lot of people give Kinston a hard time, but I love it here. It is just that you are focused on baseball. I come to the park and I am excited to come early because there is not much else to do, and I am here and I go home and I just hang out in my apartment. As far as baseball goes, I feel physically better this year and a lot more focused. There are a lot more distractions in Lake County, and I can't imagine playing in Myrtle Beach as compared to here with the temptations and that kind of stuff. They take good care of us here too, the field is phenomenal, the front office does a great job, Robbie (Robert Smeraldo, Clubhouse Manager) does a great job. The focus is on baseball here, and you have a loyal fanbase."

Typically, as starting pitchers reach Kinston, they reach a decision-making point for the organization where they mull over whether a pitcher should remain a starter or be converted to a reliever. While anything can happen between now and spring training next year, it looks like Herrmann will stick in the rotation as he looks strong on the mound and is a potential innings eater down the road. Also, Herrmann has never pitched out of the bullpen, and knows what he has to do to continue to get better to stay in the rotation.

"The things that will separate you are the small things like fielding your position and holding runners," said Herrmann. "I think I am a pretty good defender, but it is something I can definitely work on. I think I am sometimes too quick to the plate which can lead to maybe leaving the ball up in the zone. Those are the things which ultimately will separate you because a lot of righties throw 88-92, so you have to have some intangibles that separate you."

With Herrmann's season in Kinston done, he looks forward to potentially starting next season at Double-A Akron. It is not known whether or not he will start the year in Akron or in the bullpen or starting rotation, but all signs point to him making an address change to Akron to start the year and staying in the starting rotation.

"Absolutely, as in any job you want to see that upward mobility," said Herrmann. "I hope that I am fortunate enough to start in Akron next year. I have seen what a lot of guys have done where they have used Double-A as a springboard. Anything can happen from there, as it is a make or break thing. I've seen some guys start there this year and go down who had good years last year, and guys who had okay years last year now in the big leagues making an impact."

With the offseason now here, Herrmann is currently taking some time off to relax before starting back up with the throwing in December to get prepared for the 2008 minor league season. But, even while he is done playing, he still finds himself thinking through game situations in his head.

"When you play baseball for a job it is amazing what you do," said Herrmann. "Everything you do like when I am driving a car or lying down to fall asleep at night, I am thinking about making pitches in my head. You are always thinking about it no matter what you do. It is your job and it is the game that I love. I think there will be a lot of mental conditioning going on until December when I start throwing again. I'll probably start working out and lifting again in October."

Yes, not only does Herrmann get to play the game he loves professionally, but he is also living his dream.
Photo courtesy of Ken Carr

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