When Jimmy Herron finished his football career at La Salle High in 2014, he stood alone.
With 33 receiving touchdowns and 156 receptions for the Explorers, Herron became the Philadelphia Catholic League’s all-time leader in both categories and had multiple Division-I scholarship offers.
So, he took one. Except it wasn’t for his skills on the gridiron.
Ever since arriving at Duke in 2015, Herron has made a name for himself on the baseball diamond, starting in all but one of the more than 170 games he has played, manning both left and center field. And after going undrafted out of high school, Herron heard his name called by the New York Yankees in the 31st round of last year’s draft before ultimately deciding to return to school.
But now, after a third straight stellar season, he’s likely ready to go pro, and Tuesday, the Chicago Cubs made the call.
“There are a lot of different facets to his game,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said via phone last week. “He swings and misses very little, he’s always been a .400-plus on-base percentage guy, he’s got the stolen bases, and he gives you a guy in that leadoff spot that can hit with a little bit of power. … Unlike some other guys out there, he’s not a guy that has one glaring weakness.”
Unlike most sophomores, Herron was, in fact, draft-eligible in 2017, despite not having turned 21 at the time of the draft because his birthday came within 45 days of the draft’s conclusion.
As Pollard explained, even though Herron “caught helium late in the spring” and began flying onto teams’ radars, there was hesitation among clubs that prevented a guy with potential top-10-round talent from going until late on Day 3.
“Going into the season, I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, maybe if I have a good season, I’ll get drafted and sign,’ Herron, a Harleysville native, said before Duke’s NCAA tournament opener. “Once it happened, I was thinking, ‘Maybe I want to chase this dream and do it now.’ But I always kind of knew in my gut that I needed to go back to Duke for another year.”
Since returning, Herron has only continued to build upon his game. Although his batting average is down just slightly — .294 versus .324 and .326 in Years 1 and 2, respectively — the 6-foot-1 junior is striking out less, walking more and has added to his game with the ability to take the ball out of the yard.
That development is not surprising, though. It’s a credit to the sport in which Herron first truly showed hints of the prime-time athlete he has become during his college years.
“Football really teaches you how to practice and prepare because you play one game a week … so you have to be very detail-oriented,” Herron said. “Once I got here, that was something Coach Pollard really, really harped on with day-to-day work and attention to detail, so I think I kind of understood that right off the bat.
“It just helps with toughness. … I kind of play with a football mentality, and I think that can help. Baseball rewards players who really play the game hard.”
Last summer, Herron took his talents to the Cape Cod League, playing every day with some of the top talents in the country.
Not only did Herron lead the Orleans Firebirds in batting average, but his .338 mark also was third best in the entire league – behind only Cal’s Tanner Dodson and Alec Bohm, an third baseman out of Wichita State who the Phillies picked third overall. Swinging wood bats for the first time and playing in a “professional-style” league with a game every day only groomed him further.
Still, at just 21 years old, he has room for growth regardless of where he winds up next spring.
“He’s such a good athlete,” Pollard said. “For him, it’s more about refining his game and just taking each of these aspects – whether it’s baserunning, whether it’s hitting for average, whether it’s hitting for power, the on-base percentage numbers – and improving upon those.”