PRINCETON: Hermans realizes baseball dream

PU senior goes to Cubs in draft

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Zak Hermans was promised that if he worked hard at Princeton University, he would have a chance to be drafted into the major leagues.
   Four years after that promise, the PU senior was selected in the 30th round by the Chicago Cubs on Saturday. He signed a professional contract Sunday and was to fly to Arizona for assessment and placement in the Cubs farm system Tuesday.
   ”I’m thrilled to be picked by the Cubs,” said the 6-foot-2 right-hander. “They were one of the organizations following me closely. With their history and the class they had, I was excited. They asked if I would sign if they picked me. They called me in the morning.”
   Hermans checked up on the draft coverage the rest of the day before finally hearing his name.
   ”There were five or six times when there were teams that had talked to me came up and I thought I could go,” Hermans said. “Every time the Cubs came up, I’d hold my breath.”
   Hermans was the 888th pick overall. He is the 44th player from Princeton to be drafted since 1965.
   ”It’s every kid’s dream is to get drafted one day,” Hermans said. “Coach (Scott) Bradley made it clear. He promised if I came here and developed, I would have a chance to be drafted.”
   Where Hermans, a Texas native, begins his pro career will be determined by a short evaluation period. He is looking forward to seeing some of the West. He will remain either in Arizona for an extended camp, or head to Boise, Idaho, for short season rookie league.
   In some ways, he is starting over. He will be trying to show the pros in the same way he established himself for the Tigers. Hermans knew that coming to Princeton gave him a chance to start immediately, and Bradley showed confidence in throwing Hermans in early.
   ”I still remember my first college chance,” Hermans said. “It was against UNC, and I gave up eight runs in the first inning. It was my welcome to college moment.”
   Starts like that one early gave him a 7.38 ERA in his first season, but that number was misleading. He was 4-3 overall, but 4-1 in the Ivy League after a half season of pitching at the college level.
   ”It was definitely a learning curve that took place,” Hermans said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a learning curve at this next level.”
   Hermans’ numbers jumped in his sophomore year and continued to improve every successive season. He was the team’s Donovan Award winner as the Tigers’ top pitcher as a sophomore when he went 5-2 with a 3.18 ERA while striking out 55 batters and walking just 21. He was looking better, but still wasn’t thinking too seriously about being drafted at that point.
   Said Hermans: “I was just trying to figure out how to be a good college pitcher and help us win the conference.”
   The Tigers did win the Ivies in 2011, then last year Hermans was named the Ivy League Pitcher of the Year as his record improved to 6-2 and his ERA dropped to 3.00 while striking out a career-high 60. This year, his record was a misleading 3-4 even as his ERA plummeted to 2.40. He struck out 55 batters just as he had two years earlier, but walked only 12 batters this year. Opponents hit only .214 against him.
   ”It was disappointing that we didn’t win the conference,” Hermans said. “It would have nice to go out on top. I’m proud of the strides I made. I felt I improved as a pitcher and statistically throughout my four years. It was great to finish on a high.”
   In his four seasons with the Tigers, Hermans put together an 18-11 record with a 3.77 ERA in 38 appearances. He tallied 195 strikeouts, 79 walks while opposing batters hit .256 against him.
   ”I’ve had to fight through some adversity,” Hermans said, “and I’ve had to figure out how to be a good pitcher and learn.”
   Those qualities are some that have made him attractive to major league scouts. He didn’t come in mowing down hitters from the start, with everything coming easily to him. If he is faced with similar challenges as a pro, he knows how to take them on and he has the tools to get out hitters.
   ”What they’ve told me, they’re going to look at me as starting pitcher, so it’s a role I’m used to,” Hermans said. “I’m not throwing 95 miles per hour. I throw 88-92. I have a pretty plus slider. I’ll be developing my change-up more and trying to get more sink on my fastball. As the scout that signed me said, it’s not about striking people out, it’s about getting people out.”
   If Hermans makes it to the big leagues, he will have the chance to not only use his arm to help a club, but also to hit again.
   ”I hit in high school, and I hit a little freshman year,” he said. “We decided it would be best if I concentrated on pitching. It would be a good thing if I have to worry about hitting again because it would mean I made it to the majors.”
   Being drafted was the first step. Now Zak Hermans has the chance to work his way up and reward the club that helped his dream come true.
   ”I was not a Cubs fan,” he said, “but I sure am now.”