'I'm a swaggy player': Angels nab Neto with 13th pick

July 18th, 2022

A year after going 20-for-20 in selecting pitchers in the MLB Draft, the Angels went in a different direction with the No. 13 pick in this year's Draft, as they drafted shortstop Zach Neto from Campbell University in North Carolina on Sunday night.

Neto, 21, is coming off an impressive season with Campbell, slashing .407/.514/.769 with 15 homers, 19 stolen bases and 50 RBIs in 53 games. Neto, ranked as the No. 17 Draft prospect by MLB Pipeline, is also considered a strong defender and is expected to stick at shortstop. He has more than enough range to remain at short and also has a strong arm, as he served as a hard-throwing reliever for Campbell. The Angels, though, have no plans to utilize him as a two-way player, per scouting director Tim McIlvaine, who is running his first Draft for the club.

"He's athletic and he moves really well," McIlvaine said. "He's got great body control. He can move laterally to his left and to his right. Then when it gets in the box, he's got a nice big swing. He's got big bat speed and surprising power for his size. He can really get into the ball."

Neto, a Miami native and named the Big South Baseball Player of the Year the past two seasons, was in attendance at the MLB Draft in Los Angeles and expressed his excitement when talking to reporters at L,A. Live. His parents, Joaquin and Magali, and his brother, Andrew, and sister, Meghan, also attended the Draft and he hugged his mom first after he heard the Angels selected him.

"It's always been a childhood dream of mine to have my name called," Neto said, "and being here is just a big blessing for me and my family. Just getting picked by L.A., I'd never been to L.A. before, so to experience it with my family and see the city is awesome."

Neto, a 6-foot, 185-pounder, has an unconventional leg kick but he has solid contact skills and showed power last year. His speed is considered average but he's an aggressive baserunner who was caught stealing only once last year. He also showed off his strong contact skills this year, as he struck out just 19 times in 256 plate appearances, while drawing 39 walks.

"What we really liked is how much he knows the strike zone," McIlvaine said. "He doesn't get himself out. He doesn't chase. He makes pitchers throw pitches in the zone and then he hits the ball hard. There's just a lot to like about him and we love his athleticism up the middle."

Neto said he had some indications from the Angels that they would select him in the first round if he remained on the board. Many in the industry believed the Angels would go with a pitcher, especially a college pitcher considered close to the Majors like Reid Detmers in 2020 and Sam Bachman last year, but they liked what they saw from Neto.

McIlvaine said he's not sure at what level Neto will begin his Minor League career just yet and wasn't quite ready to say when he thinks Neto will reach the Majors. The selection carries a slot value of $4,410,200 and the Angels aren't expected to have any issues signing Neto.

"He's going to dictate his own pace as he gets out there and he starts to figure out pro ball," McIlvaine said. "But I think once he gets in, he's going to take off and be OK. But I don't want to put a timetable on him, because you never know what's going to happen."

When asked to describe his playing style, Neto said he likes to play with flair on the field and have fun.

"I would say I'm a swaggy player," Neto said. "I'm very confident. I bring a lot of energy. I'm Cuban, so we tend to be loud. I just bring a lot of energy and confidence and I'm a very good teammate. I'm a hard worker and just somebody who loves the game."

Neto was the club's only selection on Sunday, as they forfeited their second-round pick after signing Noah Syndergaard, who declined the qualifying offer from the Mets. They have eight picks on Monday and 10 on Tuesday. McIlvaine said the Angels don't have a concrete plan on how many position players or pitchers they'll take the rest of the way, as they'll continue to draft the best player they think is available.

"I think the Draft kind of organically happens," McIlvaine said. "Maybe we take 10 more bats. Maybe we only take pitchers. I don't know yet. There are a lot of picks between this pick and our next pick. After today, we'll reassess where are board is at and what players are coming up next. There's no real determination that we're taking all pitchers or anything."