Despite playing in only 44 career Minor League games and being the first player to reach the Majors from the 2022 MLB Draft, rookie shortstop Zach Neto has held his own through his first 16 career games with the Angels.
Neto, ranked as the club’s No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, has helped solidify the infield defense and hasn’t looked overmatched at the plate. But the one stat that really sticks out is that he's already been hit by a pitch seven times. That ties Neto for the second highest total in the Majors, behind Oakland's Esteury Ruiz, who has been plunked nine times in 29 games.
Neto’s propensity to get hit by pitches has been historic. He became the first player in Major League history to be hit by a pitch seven times in his first 15 career games, and he set a club record by being plunked in four straight games from April 18-21.
Neto, 22, said it’s something he’s been dealing with since his time at Campbell University, and he also dealt with his fair share of hit by pitches in the Minors. Neto was hit by a pitch 27 times in 100 career games with Campbell, and eight times in 44 games in the Minors.
“When I was in college, they kind of just embedded in our head [to] just not move our feet,” Neto said. “I get pretty close to the plate and when the ball is coming at me, it’s just embedded in my head not to move. At the end of the day, OBP goes up and I get in position to score and help the lineup turn back over.
"I got hit a lot in college so it’s nothing new. I have enough padding to withstand it.”
With those seven hit by pitches, Neto is slashing .250/.350/.327 with four doubles and four RBIs. Angels manager Phil Nevin has liked Neto’s approach at the plate, but also had to ask him why he was getting hit by so many pitches.
“He’s right on the plate and I asked him if he gets hit a lot and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, I get hit all the time,’” Nevin said. “But it helps with his on-base. He’s finding ways to get on base and he’s a difference-maker on defense. It’s why he’s here.”
Neto has also showed his unorthodox leg kick can work in the Majors, although he shortens it in two-strike counts and against high-velocity pitchers like he did against Oakland’s Luis Medina on Wednesday. Neto doubled off Medina despite not using his leg kick.
“When I don’t feel comfortable against a guy who is quick to the plate, I just go with my two-strike approach,” Neto said. “I’ve been practicing it. In my head, I went to my two-strike approach and I was able to hit it to right-center. It’s more of a feel thing.”
But the biggest thing that has impressed Nevin is Neto’s defense. He’s taken over as the club’s regular shortstop, which allows them to use Gio Urshela at first base and a combination of Brandon Drury and Luis Rengifo at second base. Urshela was originally the everyday shortstop, but he profiles better as a corner infielder.
“I think as we were constantly moving pieces around those first two or three weeks, as much as I thought it would be fine, it was tough on those guys,” Nevin said. “Neto really solidifies the defense. You don’t want defense to affect a guy’s offense, but it certainly does. But I think we understand more and it’s a nice mix right now.”