RHP TJ Zeuch, the Blue Jays 1st pick (21st overall) in last June's draft has risen to High A already in just his second pro season. Zeuch had something of an abbreviated 2016 season - he missed the first month of the college baseball season with a groin injury, his Pitt Panthers were eliminated from NCAA play in May, and he didn't make his pro debut until July. Despite that interrupted schedule and a pitch count around 70, he pitched well for Vancouver in his first season, and he's put together a good body of work so far this season:
What's more impressive is the amount of weak contact he's generated so far. His 63% ground ball rate is second lowest in the Florida State League, and his 13.6% line drive rate is among the lowest as well. Hitters are having a difficult time squaring him up.
Skipped over Lansing for High A Dunedin this year, Zeuch may not have been at his sharpest command-wise in his most recent start on May 6th vs the Pirates' Bradenton affiliate, but he showed glimpses of that mid-rotation projection, and a solid Baseball America scouting report:
Zeuch's best pitch is his fastball, which sits at 92-94 and sometimes touches higher. Zeuch's extra large, 6-foot-7 frame allows him to generate solid extension towards home plate, making his pitches even more difficult for hitters to pick up out of his hand. His fastball also shows both sink and arm-side run, making it an effective ground ball-inducing pitch. His offspeed pitches, a slider and changeup, receive fringe-average grades from scouts, but he has solid command of his arsenal and repeats his delivery well. The development of his offspeed pitches will dictate his ultimate ceiling.
Working off the 3rd base side of the rubber, the 6"7" Zeuch relies on his 12-6 curve, a pitch with good depth and bite, as his out pitch. With his inability to get ahead of hitters in this start, though, it was not as much of a swing-and-miss offering as it usually is. Zeuch needed only 11 pitches to get through a 1-2-3 first inning, but needed 20 in the 2nd and 22 in the 3rd, as Bradenton put up single runs in both innings. His command returned in middle frames, needing only 37 pitches to get through the next three frames. He threw 90 pitches on the night, 54 for strikes. Zeuch recorded 9 ground ball outs, but generated only three swings and misses on the night. All in all, it was a decent outing (6 IP, 6H, 2R/ER, 1BB, 1HBP, 3K), but it did seem like Zeuch was pitching from behind in the count for much of the night (he may have been a little squeezed), and his work paled slightly compared to his other outings this year (he had an incredible 16 groundouts over 6 innings earlier this season). If a true measure of a pitcher is how he battles on a night when he doesn't have his command, Zeuch passed that test with flying colours. He made good pitches when he needed to, and kept his team in the game.
Zeuch's mechanics are clean, despite the moving parts that result from his size - he learned them from his Dad, who pitched in the Royals organization, and made sure his son took care of his arm as a youth pitcher. His fastball sits in the 92-93 range, his curve 82-84. He works quickly on the mound, stepping off the rubber only to regroup the odd time when he falls behind a hitter. His height allows him to get a good downward plane on his two-seamer, which in turn enables him to pound the bottom of the strike zone (he has yet to give up a Home Run this season). A solid infield defence will always be a huge part of Zeuch's success with the groundball contact he generates. He may have a few nights where his curve is breaking sharply and he fans a batter per inning, but for the most part he relies on pitching to contact. Zeuch should progress one level at a time, meaning that his arrival in the big leagues should come in 2019 or 2020. Zeuch is still learning to pitch and how to hone his routine between starts, but it's easy to see him as a #3 starter one day.
Bradenton is a newcomer to Milb.com's video channel, but they put together a good broadcast. The high overhead home plate shot did not offer as good a view of the movement of pitches, or the work behind the plate of the Catcher, but it did give a very good look at pitchers' mechanics. A viewer in Southern Ontario during a wet and cold weekend was envious of the shirtsleeve crowds at the Pirates' spring training home.