Zak Hermans ’13 found himself on a plane to join the Chicago Cubs’ Arizona League affiliate team just one week after graduating from Princeton last spring. Hermans was named Ivy League Pitcher of the Year in 2012 and posted a 2.40 ERA for the 2013 season.
Q: How did the scouting, signing and drafting process unfold this past spring?
A: Throughout the course of the spring, scouts started to come to games. Some teams were very direct and approached me, while some stayed under the radar. A week leading up to the draft, it was clear that there were about five or six teams interested. When draft day finally rolled around, I had scouts telling me that I was expected to go on Saturday, the third day of the draft. I followed the draft and finally got a phone call from a scout with the Cubs, and he told me he’d be stopping by to do paperwork. Sunday I signed, and Tuesday I went down to Arizona. As a senior, there was very little negotiation; my deal was on the table and that was that.
Q: How does the Arizona League work in conjunction with Minor League Baseball, and how does your team function as a subset of the Cubs?
A: The Arizona League teams are a notch below Class A teams. The team is a normal minor league affiliate, so everything is run through the Cubs organization. There are 15 Arizona League teams, all within one hour of each other. Not having to travel across the country was definitely a plus.
Q: How long is the season?
A: The first game was on June 20, and we finished up Aug. 29.
Q: How does the organization deal with new pitchers?
A: They kept a close watch on our innings. None of the new drafted guys ever threw more than three innings. They started us off with one inning, regardless of whether we are starters or relievers. I got shut down this summer with a shoulder inflammation, but I had worked right up to the point where I was about to pitch three innings.
Q: What’s next in terms of baseball with the Cubs?
A: Spring training starts in February. A hundred and fifty players head down to the complex in Arizona, where they evaluate everyone. The complex has a big stadium with four or five back fields behind the stadium that the Cubs MLB team uses. Spring training lasts for a month.
Q: What is it like moving from a team on which you were a star to a place where everyone is very good?
A: It is humbling, but at the same time it motivates you to work hard. There are a lot of other guys up there who are talented. Teams are focusing on homegrown talent. There is a great pitching coordinator. There is a lot to work toward.
Q: What are your goals in terms of playing baseball as a career?
Nobody is hoping to stay in the minor leagues. There is a lot I need to work on, but I believe in the talents that I have. I have to continue to develop. This spring training, I want to work hard and hope to get put on the Class A affiliate team.
Q: In terms of conditioning, how did Princeton and playing in the Ivy League prepare you?
A: In a lot of ways it was easier. There are no classes and no schoolwork. For the first time in my life, I was able work out, train and focus on my baseball career. I am doing a lot of the same stuff now that I did at Princeton, but I am doing more of it. The competition factor is different, obviously. Playing Ivy League teams, the lineup will generally drop off by the bottom of the order or have a weak spot defensively. In Arizona, everyone is playing at a top level.
Q: What has been the greatest highlight since signing with the Cubs?
A: Definitely my first game. You don’t know what to expect, and you are playing professional baseball. It is absolutely surreal being on the mound. My first pitch was a strike, and I struck out my first batter.
Q: What was your favorite MLB team growing up?
A: Texas Rangers.
Q: If the Rangers faced the Cubs, who would you root for?
A: I still love the Rangers, but I’m all about the Cubs now. They are paying me, and I am invested in their organization and a part of what they are trying to do.