Zach Thornton comes from a family of athletes. His father, Paul, ran track at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. from 1989 to 1993, where he won a conference champion in the 1,000-meter run in 1993. His mother, Julie, participated in track and field, cross country and soccer at Lewis & Clark College and St. Olaf College from 1988 to 1992, where she was an All-American in heptathlon in 1991 and 1992 and later inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame. His grandfather ran track at the University of Kansas in the 1960s. Zach attended Lawrence Free State High School in Lawrence, Kansas, going undrafted after graduating in 2020. He went on to attend Barton Community College, a junior college in Great Bend, Kansas, a few hours away from Lawrence. He joined the Great Bend baseball team and appeared in 14 games for the Cougars, starting 13 of them. In 60.2 innings, he posted a 4.01 ERA, allowing 58 hits, walking 21, and striking out 79. In his sophomore year, he appeared in 15 games, starting all 15, and posted a 2.63 ERA in 78.2 innings, allowing 60 hits, 26 walks, and 91 strikeouts. The attention that he got from his success at Barton along with the scouts who saw him that summer pitching supplementary work with the Elizabethton River Riders in the revamped Appalachian League and for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the inaugural MLB Draft League raised his stock a great deal and prompted the left-hander to transfer to Grand Canyon University. A mainstay in their weekend rotation this past season, Thornton posted a 3.87 ERA in 88.1 innings with the Antelopes, allowing 99 hits, walking 18, and striking out 91 in his first taste of NCAA Division I baseball. After the season ended, the 21-year-old once again pitched some supplementary innings, this time with the West Virginia Black Bears of the MLB Draft League.
The 6’3”, 170-pound left-hander throws from a high-three-quarter arm slot and has plenty of deception in his delivery with a funky, up-tempo delivery that incorporates an extremely long arm action through the back and a slingy, crossfire release. Despite all of the movement in his delivery, Thornton has excellent command.
His fastball hovers around 90 MPH, topping out slightly higher. While the velocity on the pitch is not particularly breathtaking, his delivery gives the pitch deception, and it has recorded spin rates between 2200 RPM and 2400 RPM, giving it 16.1 inches of induced vertical break, resulting in high whiff rates.
Similarly, none of his secondary pitches jump off the page at you, but he has a full repertoire of pitches, understands when to use them, and can command each and every one of them. While none of his individual pitches grade as much more than average, he does not hurt himself by getting into unfavorable counts and keeps the pressure on hitters.
His slider sits in the low-80s and has two-plane break, with 2400-2500 RPM of spin, resulting in 3.9 inches of induced vertical break and 7.3 inches of horizontal break. His curveball sits in the mid-70s, a big 11-5 breaker. His changeup sits in the low-80s with sudden tumble thanks to its 1700 RPM of spin, giving it 10.8 inches of induced vertical break and 14.5 inches of horizontal movement. He also has begun using a cutter, which sits in the mid-to-high-80s and features 6.4 inches of induced vertical break and 3.3 inches of horizontal break thanks to its 2400 RPM spin rate. Some consider his slider his best secondary pitch, while others consider his changeup his best secondary pitch, with the caveat that he does not throw it enough.