Field of dreams: Eastern alum Jack Herman cruising in pro ball

A year after graduating from Eastern Regional High School, Jack Herman is thriving as a professional baseball player in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

With his team trailing the Lakewood BlueClaws by three in the top of the fifth inning – and one batter after a teammate tried to ignite the Grasshoppers by stretching a double into a triple, only to make the first out of the inning at third base – Jack Herman went to work.

The Berlin native and left fielder of the Greensboro Grasshoppers slashed a single to left. Herman wasted little time sliding safely into second with his first stolen base in A-ball, and immediately advanced to third on an errant throw.

Minutes later, he was scampering across home plate with his team’s first run. An inning later, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ South Atlantic League affiliate scored six times to take control of the game in a come-from-behind win.

Before the Grasshoppers boarded their bus in Lakewood Township, New Jersey, bound for Hagerstown, Maryland, three days later – about a four-hour ride – Herman rewarded friends and family who drove up Route 70 with a going-away present: he reached base three times, including hitting a home run, in the Grasshoppers’ 10-1 victory.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Jack Herman’s father, Ken, said from his seat in Section 109 at FirstEnergy Park.

Exactly 12 months removed from high school, when he helped lead Eastern Regional High School and Olympic-Colonial to Diamond Classic and Carpenter Cup tournament titles as a senior, Jack Herman is excelling in his first full summer of professional baseball.

“I’m not surprised, because I just think the world of Jack not only as a player but as a person,” Eastern High coach Rob Christ said. “The Pirates think highly of him. Frankly, despite the fact that he was drafted in the 30th round, I’m not surprised by that, either. I’m surprised so many teams missed out on his talent level.”

Greensboro hitting coach Chris Petersen on Eastern graduate Jack Herman’s first full summer in professional baseball: “I like the fact that he’s so aggressive yet that he’s willing to learn and make adjustments in a game. He’s very open minded. We have good discussions in the dugout, good hitting talks. He’s growing and getting better every single day.” (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

It takes a special talent to be drafted by a major league team, period.

But the odds of making it from 30th round pick through the grueling minor league journey all the way to a major league ballpark aren’t favorable. In the 10-year period between 2002 and 2011, 30th round picks are hitting .083: only 25 of the 300 players selected in the 30th round reached the big leagues.

But, among those 25 are current big leaguers Jake Diekman (Phillies, 2007) and Hector Santiago (White Sox, 2006), who have appeared in 650 major league games. So it’s not impossible.

“It’s a little chip on the shoulder,” Herman said before a game last month in Lakewood. “I still got drafted, which (obviously) I’m lucky for, but getting drafted in the 30th and telling people I was signing (and turning down a college scholarship) I had a bunch of people telling me, ‘What are you doing?’ or ‘You’re crazy.’ But it’s my life and my decision, some people don’t know what I’m going through. So it’s kind of, they don’t know what’s coming. I’m going to show them what it’s all about.”

One calendar year into his pro career, Herman is showing pretty well: he entered action on July 3 hitting .253 with a .349 on-base percentage and .949 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) this season at Greensboro. Herman, who doesn’t turn 20 until September, has seven home runs in just 24 games with the Grasshoppers.

A year ago, in his first taste of pro ball in the Gulf Coast League, Herman hit .340 with a .924 OPS and nearly as many walks (23) as strikeouts (24) in 37 games.

Herman entered action on July 3 with seven home runs in his first 24 games with the Class A Greensboro Grasshoppers. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Herman said of his success last summer in the GCL, where games are played in the middle of the day under an unforgiving Florida sun in July and August. “Going into my first year of pro ball, I didn’t know how I was going to fare going against 90, 95 (miles-per-hour) every day, especially with some Dominican kids that don’t know where it’s going. It was about staying hard-headed with our practices, our (velocity) machines, all the machine work. I just got right there and figured it out. … It toughened you up. It was seeing pitches, getting some experience.”

Herman has continued to bring the same, stick-to-the-program mentality in his first month in A-ball. Despite being just a year removed from high school, Herman has an advanced maturity as a hitter.

“I like the fact that he’s so aggressive yet that he’s willing to learn and make adjustments in a game,” said Greensboro hitting coach Chris Petersen. “He’s very open minded. We have good discussions in the dugout, good hitting talks. He’s growing and getting better every single day. We’re talking about his chase rates, where he’s swinging and missing on balls and he’s noticing it. … His openness is going to take him a long way. He’s got some serious pop, some strength. With that is going to come a lot of trust in his swing.”

The climb from high school field to major league clubhouse is steep, with several steps through the minor leagues to master during the journey. But in one year’s time, Herman has already graduated out of rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League and bypassed Short-season A-ball (the New York Penn League) to be among the younger players in the South Atlantic League.

Eastern Regional High School coach Rob Christ on Herman’s successful first calendar year in the minor leagues: “I’m not surprised, because I just think the world of Jack not only as a player but as a person. The Pirates think highly of him. Frankly, despite the fact that he was drafted in the 30th round, I’m not surprised by that, either. I’m surprised so many teams missed out on his talent level.” (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

Could he make it to High-A next summer? How about getting onto the Double-A radar before the start of 2021?

“Ooooh, I don’t know,” Herman said. “I kind of don’t like to think that far ahead. Being here right now is even a surprise to me. I mean, I know I’ve played well this year but I wasn’t expecting to be here. So coming here I knew I had to perform and show up.”

Herman is doing just that midway through the 2019 baseball season. With the Pirates helping him get started on his college education through offseason, online courses, it’s safe to say Herman doesn’t have any regrets about signing a pro contract as a 30th round pick instead of playing college baseball at the University of Maryland.

“From life experiences of my own, you only get so many opportunities in life,” Ken Herman said. “Who is to say you to go college and then you don’t get drafted again? … Everybody has an expiration date and you don’t know when yours is coming. So enjoy it while you can. Opportunities, you have to take them when you’ve got them. He could catch lightning in a bottle, you never know.”