Name: David Berg
Age: 22 (3/28/1993)
How Acquired: Drafted in the sixth-round (#173 overall) in 2015 out of UCLA. Signed 6/18/15 for a reported $50,000.
Status: Rule 5 eligible after the 2018 season
David Berg started throwing side-arm to get some innings on the mound his junior season at Bishop Amat High School in Covina, California. Since then, he’s won a College World Series and a Carolina League championship. Not bad for being self-taught.
‘I’ve really just gone by trail-and-error,” Berg said during a pre-game interview last summer with Myrtle Beach Pelicans broadcaster Nathan Barnett explaining how he changed his delivery to get mound time. After seven innings as a junior, Berg excelled his senior season, going 7-1 with four saves strictly as a reliever and leading his team to a Southern Section Division title as well as earning first-team All-CIF honors.
A walk-on his freshman year at UCLA, Berg appeared in 50 games, a PAC-12 and UCLA record and one game shy of the NCAA mark. As a sophomore he tied the NCAA mark for appearances, set the NCAA save record with 24, and got the final out in the College World Series clinching game. He was the first reliever to earn PAC-12 Pitcher of the Year honors and had a streak of 37 straight innings without allowing a run.
Berg missed two months his junior season but still recorded 11 saves and appeared in 31 games. Drafted by the Rangers in the 17th round, Berg returned to UCLA for his senior season, and earned his second PAC-12 Pitcher of the Year award and became just the third PAC-12 player to earn first-team honors four times. Berg set the NCAA record for appearances with 175 and combined with James Kaprielian on May 15, 2015, for the first no-hitter in school history.
Berg said he really hasn’t patterned his delivery off any former or present big leaguer, instead learning on his own.
“Been trial and error and doing it my own way,” he said in the interview while in High A. “I think I throw a little bit different than the other guys. I don’t have any type of leg kick, I don’t cross my body, I open up which is very odd for any pitcher but especially a side-armer. So I think I’ve really crafted out my own path.”
Berg throws a fastball in the mid-80s, mixes in a slider, and has been working on a change-up—all pitches he developed in house.
“I started with the fastball. Learned to throw it for strikes, and then strikes down in the zone. My slider, went from being a pitch that I was just trying to throw strikes with, to a pitch I can now work more on the plate when I want to, and off the plate when I want to. And the development of the change-up has been big the last year or so. Again, just started to try to throw for strikes at bottom of zone, now working on more movement and working both sides of the plate instead of just throwing it down in the zone.”
And to date, not too many hitters standing 60-feet, 6-inches away have had much success off Berg.
“Looking forward to reaching out to major league guys, but so far in my career really haven’t looked towards anyone else, I’ve really gone with what helped me get the most movement, be the most consistent in terms of hitting location and having consistent mechanics. I’ve had pitching coaches help me with mental side of the game, reading hitters, but as far as mechanics go, been a lot of self-development, a lot of repetition.”
Berg signed June 18, threw a few bullpen sessions in Mesa and was assigned to Eugene in the Northwest League to begin his pro career. In his debut, he fanned two and got the final four outs against Tri-Valley for his first pro save and his next game out for the Emeralds, he tossed two perfect innings with two strikeouts and earned the win in relief. Two days later he was on his way to Myrtle Beach, skipping South Bend and the Midwest League. Berg surrendered two runs on two hits and a walk and took the loos in his Carolina League debut July 7 vs. Winston-Salem—he would only allow one more run the rest of the season. In 16 games he lowered his ERA down to 1.69 and fanned 14 in 16 innings while walking just three. He was a perfect 4-for-4 in the closer role and was put to the test in his first pro playoff game. Entering the game with the bases loaded and no one out in the ninth against Winston-Salem, Berg retired the side in order to even the series and catapult the Pelicans to the Cup. In the finals, Berg got credit for two wins, including the clincher and also recorded another save.
It would be rather aggressive to think Berg would start the year in AA and its likely he returns to the Carolina League for opening day. That said, he’ll be in AA at some time in ’16, probably sooner rather than later. One of the things that impressed me was that despite not throwing hard, Berg challenged hitters and threw strikes, forcing them to put the ball ind play. Not only evident by three walks in 19 innings but in games where pitch counts were kept, he threw strikes 69 percent of the time. “I feel I can compete at the major league level and I’m just excited the Cubs have given me an opportunity to go out and make them look smart for taking me.”