As a professional baseball player, Terre Haute South High School graduate Timmy Herrin knows that any phone call from his employer can be life changing.
Things might stay the same. He could be moving up a level on the minor-league baseball ladder. He could be dropping lower, get traded to another organization or even released.
While his fate lies mostly within his own hands in such a performance-based industry, the Cleveland Guardians’ organization has the ultimate say.
Herrin got a really big phone call recently, when the Guardians decided to put Herrin on their 40-man roster – showing their confidence in him and securing his spot within the organization.
“It’s definitely a big deal and it’s another step toward achieving my dream of playing in the major leagues,” said Herrin, who was drafted in the 29th round by the Cleveland organization (then known as the Indians) in 2018. “It was a little surreal when I got that call, and I don’t know if it’s actually set in yet. It’s definitely a really cool experience.”
Organizations put minor-league players on the 40-man roster to further evaluate and train them, while keeping them away from the Rule 5 draft in which they may be selected by other teams if not protected.
Herrin’s preference was to stay with the Guardians and avoid the possibility of starting over within a new organization.
“I was drafted by the Guardians and they are basically being the ones who have developed me,” said Herrin, who turned 26 last month.
“I was hoping that they’d protect me from the Rule 5 draft, but I knew it was a possibility that another team might try to pick me up if not.”
Herrin has made the normal progression through the minors, starting in the Rookie League in Arizona following his final year at Indiana University and performing for Class A teams at Lake County and Mahoning Valley before making the leap to Class AA at Akron and then to Class AAA at Columbus this year.
This summer, Herrin pitched 69.1 innings – mostly out of the bullpen – as a middle reliever and recorded 101 strikeouts while walking just 23 batters. Despite a won-lost record of just 1-4 and two saves, those walk/strikeout numbers are the kind that get you to the big leagues.
“When I got to Triple-A, there were definitely some growing pains,” he said. “I think that has more to do with just trying to do too much and not trusting myself as much. Then I had to sit down with the coaches there, and they just told me to just be relaxed and trust myself a little bit more. As the season progressed at Triple-A, I settled in and started to have the success I was having at the lower levels.”
While toiling as a starter in college, Herrin’s minor-league experience has been different. He doesn’t mind, though.
“I enjoyed that role in college and I’ve been a reliever ever since in pro ball,” Herrin said. “I’ve kind of embraced that role and I kind of enjoy it, knowing that you’re probably going to pitch every couple days and it could be a big situation for the team.
“I just want to go out there and compete and do the best I can.”
Others are noticing Herrin’s progress.
Guardians Baseball Insider, an online publication dissecting performances of the organization’s minor-league teams and players, chose Herrin as its “Relief Prospect of the Year.”
The publication had narrowed the top reliever prospects to Herrin and right-hander Connor Smith.
“Both could impact Cleveland’s bullpen in 2023, first being Herrin given his roster status,” GBI said. “Velocity, especially from the left side, matters in the pen as we have seen.”
Herrin now regularly hits 95-97 mph on the radar gun, occasionally touching 99 mph.
With the increased importance on relievers in today’s game, Herrin may do well to stay where he is in the pen.
“There’s lot more, lot more value on relievers,” he said. “I think with all the analytics nowadays, it’s rare to see starters go more than like six innings or so. I feel like even the middle reliever has gotten more valuable than they used to be back in the day.”
One of Herrin’s top days came this year when he actually started a game in Columbus on Sept. 19 in a rare “bullpen game” for the team, in which starters have been overused and a collection of relievers splits the nine-inning duties.
“I had two of those this year, and they both went pretty well,” he said.
Herrin tried to replicate his normal bullpen timeline as he temporarily became a starter, not warming up for an extended period and waiting until the game was about to start.
The second one in September was especially good, as Herrin struck out seven consecutive Omaha hitters.
“I can’t remember ever doing that in high school or college,” he said. “I was kind of in the zone, and everything was clicking. I didn’t even realize I had struck out that many batters in a row.”
Herrin was proud of an off-the-field venture in which he helped raise money for pediatric brain cancer and also helped his mental approach to the game.
“That was really cool,” he said. “A connection with that organization reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be a part of that in September. We set a goal at getting $1,000 in donations and I think we got right there. I guess it put a little bit more on the season and gave me a little more motivation to do well.”
Herrin will go to major-league spring training in Goodyear, Ariz., in February but is staying plenty busy until that time.
He has an off-season job and he is also training at a facility in Noblesville five days a week after taking a little time off following the end of the season.
“I’m just working out throwing progression or progressing with my throwing program,” Herrin said. “I’m taking the feedback I got from this past season from my coaches and the organization and trying to apply it to my off-season training to hopefully take that next step and hopefully me get into the major leagues to start next year.”
Sam Hentges is a tall, lefty reliever who starred for the Guardians in the playoffs this year. He’s also 26 years old and is the only returning left-hander in the bullpen.
“I’d like to think that I’m competing for a open spot out of spring training in big leagues, and that’s how I’m going to approach it and go into spring training,” Herrin said. “I’m going to make let them make that decision if they think I’m ready or not.”