NEW BRITAIN, CT - When the Eastern League All-Stars take to the field for the 2012 Baseballtown All-Star Classic at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading on Wednesday, New Britain pitcher B.J. Hermsen will be among the names on the Eastern Division roster. Not too bad for someone who began the season in Single-A ball.
"It's a good honor, that's for sure," said Hermsen.
Initially, Hermsen didn't even know he had made the All-Star team until his dad told him on the phone.
"I called my parents and he said, 'Congratulations on making the all-star team,'" said Hermsen. "Then the next day when we got (to the stadium) we found out. It definitely felt good."
It's an honor that is most certainly deserved by the 22-year-old right hander. Since joining the Rock Cats at the end of April, the Iowa native has cemented his place as one of the most reliable and effective starters in the rotation.
Hermsen started this season with Ft. Myers. It took just four starts to show the Minnesota Twins he was ready for the next level. Hermsen simply dominated the Florida State League competition, going 1-0 with a 0.78 ERA in four starts. He struck out 12 and walked five while limiting batters to a .190 average and 16 hits in 23 innings.
He hasn't skipped a beat since his arrival in New Britain. Although the numbers aren't as gaudy, Hermsen has managed to become one of the aces of the Rock Cats' staff in his first crack at Double-A. In 12 starts, he has posted a 5-4 record with a 3.27 ERA to go along with a 39K/11BB ratio in 77 innings.
The quite humble Hermsen tends to deflect his success onto his teammates, particularly his battery mates.
"It's definitely been easier on me having guys like Danny Lehmann and Chris Herrmann and I had Dan Rohlfing in Ft. Myers (who has since joined the Rock Cats) as a catcher," Hermsen explained. "It's been an easy transition with guys like that. They know most of the hitters up here. I just go out and throw my game and they put down the pitches and I just throw them."
Perhaps the 6'5," 235-pound Hermsen makes it sound much easier than it is, but, after all, success is nothing new for the natural athlete.
During his career at West Delaware High School in Iowa, Hermsen played baseball, football, track and basketball. He earned all-state honors in three sports - all except track - but it was on the baseball diamond where he shined the brightest. He proved to be an all-around athlete when he not only dominated on the mound but also slammed an Iowa state best 57 home runs in his high school career. It was his arm that earned the most recognition from scouts, though, including stringing together a senior season that included a perfect 10-0 record, 0.63 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 66.2 innings.
Hermsen had signed with Oregon State University - a program he had his heart set on attending - but his plans changed when the Twins selected him in the sixth round of the 2008 Draft. Despite being projected to go higher in the draft, the Twins still made an offer that Hermsen found hard to turn down.
"It was more of a family decision than an individual decision. I talked to my parents and the offer I received was too much so that was the main factor," he explained.
In the end Hermsen realized things have turned out just fine.
"I have no regrets. Obviously, I was pretty set on going to college and I decided to sign with the Twins," he said. "From what I've seen, things have worked out well."
This season, it is the Rock Cats who have been the beneficiaries of that decision. While the Rock Cats have struggled at times at the plate this season, it is the pitching staff that has been amongst the best in the league. Hermsen - who is currently seventh in ERA in the E.L. - and his pitching cohorts currently rank 4th in the league in team ERA. With the Rock Cats among the top of the division all season and tied for first place, Hermsen and company have proved that pitching wins ball games.
The fact that Hermsen has been so reliable may have resulted in a slight panic after his second to last start on June 27. Trenton hammered Hermsen for six runs on six hits in just two innings. That day, Hermsen headed to the showers early. The next day, he showed resilience via Twitter.
"When I was younger my mom always told me the sun would come up the next day after a tough game," he tweeted, "sure enough it's 70 n sunny out today."
Sure enough, his next start was much brighter. Any cause for concern was quickly put to rest when he took the mound against the same team and fired seven brilliant innings. The Thunder only managed one run - which was unearned - and five hits against Hermsen that day.
Even as he increases his star potential, Hermsen continues to find ways to improve his game. He had previously boasted an impressive pitching repertoire consisting of a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, changeup, and curve ball. This season, he has added a cutter to the mix.
"(Eric Rasmussen), (the Twins' minor league) pitching coordinator, when I was in the instructional league last year, mentioned it," Hermsen explained. "I had kind of been messing around with it the previous off-season. I worked on it a little bit more this off-season and I'm excited to use it."
In addition to a new pitch on his resume, Hermsen is also trying to rediscover speed to his pitches. A pitcher who showcases spectacular control, he admits to having lost some velocity since high school. Back in high school, he could hit the low 90's. He has only lost a few miles an hour on his fastball, but in professional baseball that is a big deal. Thing is, he has no idea why his pitches now register in the high 80's on the speed gun.
"I really couldn't tell you. I don't know if it's the longer season or throwing more or what not," said Hermsen.
He went on to point out that some Major Leaguers can touch 95 miles per hour but still get hit around.
"You have to be able to control it," said Hermsen. "Obviously, I would still like to add some velo but if it doesn't work out I can rely on control."
After all, that has worked out just fine so far.