SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Zach Daniels studied a lot of Jeremy Peña in the spring. They were a pair of Astros prospects who were often part of the same hitting group, and as Peña worked to prove he was capable of winning a Major League job out of the gate, Daniels took mental notes in hopes of mimicking a similar load setup at the plate.
“It kind of lays back and rotates as I go,” Daniels said. “That allowed me to make an in-game adjustment a little bit better and lets my bat come through the zone a little bit cleaner too.”
Half a year later, Peña is about to enter the World Series as ALCS MVP, and Daniels is crushing one of the longest homers of the Arizona Fall League.
The Astros’ No. 29 prospect clubbed a solo homer Wednesday that Trackman measured at 481 feet in Surprise’s 5-4 win over Mesa at Surprise Stadium. The ball traveled with an exit velocity of 114 mph, too, nearly 20 mph above the hard-hit standard of 95.
For reference, Statcast measured the longest Astros Major League homer in 2022 at 469 feet, hit by Yordan Alvarez on May 30. That Alvarez homer came off Oakland hurler Paul Blackburn, and Daniels’ moonshot came against A’s right-handed pitching prospect Ryan Cusick.
“It’s probably the longest in my career,” Daniels said. “Probably one of the top exit velos for my home runs, too. So definitely a big home run for me.”
The right-handed slugger connected on the first pitch he saw Wednesday to drive that ball to right-center and onto the concourse above the sloped outfield berm. Cusick’s fastball is known to touch triple-digits. Daniels, who was 1-for-3 out of the ninth spot in the Surprise lineup, noted he wanted to be prepared for the heat immediately.
“You let him be the power, to be honest,” he said. “I can't take credit. But, definitely, you have to shorten up and then just let him supply the power. You don't have to try too hard or hit it as hard.”
The homer was well timed for the 2020 fourth-rounder out of Tennessee. Daniels entered Wednesday 2-for-18 (.111) through his first five games with the Saguaros, and he had missed two weeks of play with a right wrist injury before returning to action Monday.
The 23-year-old outfielder has long shown above-average raw power dating back to his days with the Volunteers. But he struggles against off-speed pitches, and a tendency to put the ball on the ground kept him from tapping into that power in his first full season. The adjustment to simplify his swing helped him produce a .282/.371/.522 line with 23 homers (14 more than he hit in 2021) over 95 games during the regular season at High-A Asheville.
Daniels was set to play winter ball in Puerto Rico when he was informed he would be a last-minute replacement in the Fall League instead. Now that the right wrist issue is past him, he has roughly two and a half weeks to build on his power gains with Surprise, all the while keeping an eye on Peña and the big league club fighting for a World Series title starting Friday.
“I feel like everybody in the organization is in a win-now situation,” Daniels said. “We all have fun, but we all work. That starts with Mickey Story, our manager [in Surprise]. He works, but we work too. I think that's just a testament to our organization in the Minor Leagues, and it shows how Jeremy Peña came in and replaced [Carlos] Correa like that.”
No. 21 Cubs prospect Matt Mervis connected on his fifth AFL homer for Mesa, putting him in a tie with the ninth-ranked Orioles prospect Heston Kjerstad for the circuit lead in the category. Jhailyn Ortiz, the No. 17 prospect in the Phillies' system, also went deep for the Solar Sox, giving Wednesday’s contest two dingers from players representing World Series systems.