Of all the pitchers on the eight minor league affiliates working with the Toronto Blue Jays, few rise above the crop and amaze with consistency. One of them is University of Pittsburgh product, T.J. Zeuch, who recently sat down with Jays Journal for a special interview.
It would be incredibly difficult to be a Toronto Blue Jays fan and not have at least heard the name T.J. Zeuch mentioned in stupendously high esteem. A first-round pick of the Jays in 2016, the native of Mason, Ohio, is currently the organization’s 15th ranked prospect. He has pitched to a cumulative 3.45 ERA in over 250 minor league innings with Dunedin, New Hampshire, Lansing, and Vancouver. He joined Jays Journal to talk about his career, his future, and his knack for getting big outs when it matters most.
Hayden Godfrey: T.J., thank you so much for joining me, I’d like to ask you first about your draft position, which I know is not something you’re thinking about at the moment, but how did it feel to be drafted in the first round, and by this organization no less?
T.J. Zeuch: It felt incredible. I was hoping for an opportunity to play professional baseball and obviously going in the first round is icing on the cake for any college baseball player. It was a really, really nice start to my professional career and I want to make the most of it.
HG: You quickly climbed the minor league ranks and you’re currently with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, widely considered to be one of the most exciting minor league ball clubs this season. You pitched over 90 innings for the Dunedin Blue Jays, a fantastically well run club in their own right. What was the experience of playing in a place that the pros play in for spring training?
TZ: Going in and playing in all of those big league spring training facilities, whether at home or on the road, helps adapt to minor league life a little bit. The road trips there aren’t really long… I think our longest road trip was three and a half hours, which is nothing compared to our current road trip in Double-A, we’re on our way to Akron, which is a 12-hour bus ride. I think that kind of helps ease your way into it and also gives you something to shoot for because I want to be able to go to big league camp and play with big leaguers in those facilities.
HG: Your scouting report, courtesy of MLB Pipeline, notes that your physical presence helps you establish a downhill angle to the plate. You stand at 6-foot-7, meaning you’d literally be looking down on me right now. Has your height always been an advantage to you as a pitcher growing up?
TZ: I believe it has. They say you should establish a downhill plane, and being able to have longer legs, I feel like I get closer to the plate than, say, someone who’s 6-foot-2. Closer release point to the plate, as well as that downhill plane, I think are really big advantages for us taller pitchers.
HG: Your scouting report also mentions that while your slider and curveball are excellent, you haven’t used your changeup a ton. Do you plan on using it more as you progress through your career, or are there other aspects of your pitches that you’d like to develop with higher priority?
TZ: The changeup is my highest priority. I’ve actually been using it a lot more since I got to New Hampshire, me and pitching coach Vince Horsman sat down and said we were going to shoot for about a 12% usage. Whether or not it was going to be good was all dependant upon using it, getting a feel for it. In my last four or five starts, it’s been a lot better than it has been, much more serviceable in game and I think that’s due in large part to him saying “you need to throw this, it’ll be a big help to your career later on at higher levels”.
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HG: Your ability to get ground balls has been lauded by scouts for the past few years. Was that uncanny ability to induce ground ball contact something that you sort of stumbled upon or was it something you consciously worked towards perfecting over the years?
TZ: I think it’s a little bit of both. As early as I can remember, my dad always told me to throw a two-seam fastball because it moves more than a four-seam [fastball], so I’ve been throwing a two-seam fastball/sinker since I started pitching. I’ve become more of a big ground ball guy and I want to have more quick innings.
HG: How do you feel being part of an organization that is the only one in the country? Do you think about that often, playing for a Canadian team? If so, how do feel about being able to represent not just a city, but a country?
TZ: I hadn’t thought about it a ton. I do remember when I was drafted, my sister’s softball team had [someone] on the team, and her parents were from Toronto, and they told me: “Hey, you’ve got a whole country behind you”. That’s kind of an interesting thought to think about. The United States are all divided up with fans all over the country versus all of Canada rooting for one team. I think that’s pretty cool.
The second half of the interview features discussions about the future of T.J’s young career and the experience of being a young prospect in an exciting organization.