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2016 Mets draft preview: T.J. Zeuch

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With the 19th pick in the draft, the Mets could potentially draft T.J. Zeuch. Who is he and would he be worth selecting?

Name: T.J. Zeuch
Born: Mason, Ohio
Age: 20 (8/1/1995)
Height/Weight: 6'7"/225 lbs
Position: RHP
Bats/Throws: R/R
School: University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Introduction

Parents across the world hope that their children grow up and find themselves in a better position than are they. For the Zeuchs, son T.J. going on to play baseball would be a fulfillment of father Timothy's hopes and wishes. Tim was a standout pitcher at California State University at Northridge, thanks to a wipeout slider. The Kansas City Royals drafted Tim, but his career stalled out due to a torn rotator cuff that never healed properly. While he never made it to the major leagues, Timothy Jr. has an good chance at doing so.

The older Zeuch has coached his son for virtually his entire life; Timothy Sr. was either T.J.'s head coach or pitching coach until he was 15, when the teams he began playing on had their own coaches. "He kind of stepped back and allowed them to work with me on the field," T.J. told the Pitt News. "But then at home and off the field, he would work with me still, and he still does today. He still talks to me all the time about mechanics and pitching."

Due to the elder Zeuch's injury, he has taken precautions to ensure that Timothy Jr. does not experience the same fate. Timothy Sr. made sure his son's arm was iced after games, that he did not exceed a certain number of pitches per game and innings per year, and that he did not throw breaking balls that could potentially damage his arm. "I was actually like 15 or 16 years old when I started throwing a real breaking ball. My dad was very careful with that," T.J. said. "So he really didn't teach me to throw it until we had actually gone to an orthopedist and got an X-ray. Now, the curveball is probably my best pitch."

Armed with good genes and his father's wisdom and knowledge of pitching, T.J. blew through his high school competition. Attending William Mason High School, outside of Cincinatti, the right-hander posted a 2.15 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 39 innings as a junior, and a 0.62 ERA with 84 strikeouts as a senior, compiling a 14-3 record and 137 strikeouts. The Royals, the same team that drafted his father almost 35 years prior, drafted the righty in the 31st round of the 2013 draft.

However, unlike his father, T.J. declined to sign, instead honoring his commitment to the University of Pittsburgh. The reasons for doing so, he rationalized, were two-fold: "One, I was a 17-year-old kid. I wasn't ready to be totally on my own in the real world yet, and I knew that I had a lot more development to do, had to get a lot better before I was ready to face professional hitters. Two, the signing bonus wasn't enough for me to have skipped college and skip that experience."

As a freshman, Zeuch made 15 appearances, starting nine games and pitching out of the bullpen in six, while posting a 2.75 ERA to lead the Pittsburgh Panthers. He established himself as the ace of the staff in his sophomore year, when he posted a 3.87 ERA in 14 starts. That year, Zeuch increased his strikeout rate by nearly 33%, fanning 90 batters in 88.1 innings, compared to the 41 he struck out in 55.2 innings the year prior. That summer, the righty pitched in the prestigious Cape Cod League and opened some eyes, both with his stuff and with his stats.

Zeuch missed the first five starts of the 2016 season due to a nagging groin injury, but did not miss a beat after returning to the mound. He credits his injury for some of his success, stating that by sitting out the beginning of the year, he felt fresher than other pitchers.

Stats

Year Level Age Games Innings Pitched ERA K BB
2014 NCAA Div I (ACC) 18 15 (9 GS) 55.2 2.75 41 17
2015 NCAA Div I (ACC) 19 14 (14 GS) 88.1 3.87 90 25
2015 CCBL 19 4 (4 GS) 20.2 1.31 17 5
2016 NCAA Div I (ACC) 20 10 (10 GS) 69.2 3.10 74 19

What The Scouts Think

While, like other tall pitchers, his long limbs may sometimes get out of sync with the rest of his body, Zeuch has an excellent frame for pitching at six-foot-seven. He throws his fastball down plane, adding velocity and natural sink. Zeuch, in fact, has one of the best groundball rates among all NCAA pitchers for the 2016 baseball season. The pitch generally sits in the low-to-mid-90s, and has touched as high as 97 mph. Thanks to the natural extension he gets on the pitch due to his size, the sinker appears faster than it actually is, as batters have less time to pick it up out of his hand.

Zeuch throws three other pitches—a slider, a curveball, and a changeup—to round out his arsenal. The slider is sharp and tight, and is reminiscent of the one his father threw. The curveball, on the other hand, is still a work in progress, effective enough to be used as a get-me-over pitch but not yet effective enough to put batters away with regularity. His changeup lags well behind his breaking balls in its development.

The right-hander throws from a high three-quarters arm angle, hiding the ball well with a high leg kick to impart additional deception. Zeuch keeps his release point consistent, and is able to control his pitches with regularity as a result. His delivery is smooth and loose, and does not present any obvious red flags for injury.

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