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What scouts -- and Zeuch -- see in T.J. Zeuch

@baseballexis
November 19, 2019

In a season that saw T.J. Zeuch debut at two different levels, get his first shot at the Major Leagues, and overcome early-season injury woes to get there, the 24-year-old right-hander takes the most pride in what he learned from his struggles with Triple-A Buffalo.

In a season that saw T.J. Zeuch debut at two different levels, get his first shot at the Major Leagues, and overcome early-season injury woes to get there, the 24-year-old right-hander takes the most pride in what he learned from his struggles with Triple-A Buffalo.

Toronto’s No. 16 prospect impressed in his first start for the Bisons at the end of June, throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings for the Herd, but Zeuch initially had trouble repeating his success. He posted a 4.91 ERA in five turns through the rotation in July, allowing 32 hits and 15 walks over 29 1/3 innings, fanning 16 and allowing an opponents’ average of .288 over that span.

Zeuch turned things around in August, notching a 2.58 mark over six starts and 38 1/3 frames, walking 10, striking out 18, holding the opposition to a .203 average and earning his first call up to the big leagues.

“The thing I’m most proud of is the adjustment I made in Buffalo,” the 6-foot-7, 225-pound hurler said. “My first start in Buffalo was pretty good and then after that I was pretty bad for four or five starts in a row.

“Getting back to where I was last year, throwing more strikes, not walking as many guys, getting more weak contact and making more quality pitches, that adjustment -- and having the big leagues looming in the back of my mind, trying to get up here, I was able to put that on the back shelf -- and just worrying about getting better and pitching down there, helped me.”

Making the grades
What also helped Zeuch in the journey from Mason High School to joining the Blue Jays was the Ohio native’s routine.

Evaluating himself using a Major League Scouting Bureau report and the 2-to-8 scouting scale, and basing grades on the standards set by the Bureau, Zeuch mentioned that while he had “never seen anything as detailed as this” about himself, there were a couple of things notably missing from the evaluation.

“It misses intangibles, stuff you can’t see in a game,” he said. “How players go about stuff in between starts, how do they stick to their routine, what does their routine look like, things like that.

“Sticking to my routine has been huge for me. Just finding things that work and that make me feel good going into my next start or in between starts -- whether it be stuff I’m working on, on the side, or drill work I’m doing, weight room, training room, all that stuff -- is huge. Without having that solid routine, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen shared his teammate’s sentiment, noting that an addition to the scouting report should be in order.

“There should be a grade on your routine, there really should, because that’s the most important thing,” Jansen said. “The mental side is all intangible, but you can see the tools.”

What the scouts say
Zeuch brings a number of tools to the table, though scouts are mixed on what the future might hold for a sinker-ball pitcher in the era of the strikeout.

“He’s a pitch-to-contact, ground-ball guy,” a professional evaluator said. “That could work for him. There are a lot of guys who are tall like he is who have had good careers doing that, who strike out maybe five or six a game but get a lot of ground balls. He may get more strikeouts in today’s game with guys trying to hit the ball up. He has a chance.

“I would give him a good chance to make the team out of Spring Training, if he has a decent spring, but I think he’s a back-of-the-rotation guy. He’s going to have days where he commands his stuff, pitches ahead and has success. But if he’s struggling with command or his stuff isn’t good enough, there’s not much room for error.”

While another scout noted just how effectively Zeuch uses his height, he went on to say, “He really has no out pitch and must mix and command his stuff better to have a chance. But he’s a young guy with some upside. He knows what he is and he stays within himself.”

Continued development
As he looked ahead to this offseason, the 21st overall pick in 2016 out of the University of Pittsburgh understood his need to develop that out pitch and had plans underway in order to do just that.

“The biggest development is just improving my breaking balls, both of them,” Zeuch said. “Just kind of finding a true, go-to out pitch between them. Obviously I’ve got the good sinker, and my changeup’s been really good lately. I’m just finding a true out pitch I can go to whenever I need to get a big strikeout or weak contact.”

As he heads into Spring Training next year, the big righty is looking forward to using what he learned during his month in the Majors to help him as he continues his quest to stay there.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s just the same game,” Zeuch said. “Make quality pitches and execute your game plan, pitch to your strengths, that’s really all you can worry about doing. If you try and worry about striking guys out or trying to not give up a hit, that’s when you really get into trouble and you leave pitches in the zone that are going to end up getting hit hard. When I’m relaxed is when I’m able to do my best.”

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.