Zac Veen has always been a goal-setter. Now he's a top-10 MLB Draft pick.
As a sixth grader growing up in Florida, Veen -- whom the Rockies drafted No. 9 overall on Wednesday -- would ride his bike nearly two miles each way in order to watch the Spruce Creek High School team work out.
“At that time, my only goal was to start on varsity as a freshman,” Veen said. “That's really what drove me to do that every day.”
If he hoped to reach that goal, he thought, he ought to know what that challenge would look like.
“I thought he lived right around the corner -- you just started seeing him show up day in and day out,” said Johnny Goodrich, Spruce Creek’s long-time coach. “I said, ‘I don’t mind your being here, but just make sure you just kind of stay out of the way.’ He just kept coming and kept coming and I thought, ‘This kid is a frickin’ baseball rat, I might as well start to include him in some of the stuff.’”
Veen, who was ranked No. 7 on MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft Prospects list before the Rockies snapped him up, began to take swings in the cage with the team, getting some extra tips from Goodrich when time allowed. One session included hacks against a pitching machine that was cranked up to 90 mph, and while Veen didn’t have much success at first, he and Goodrich stuck around after practice to work on his swing.
“We stayed out there for an hour,” Goodrich said. “We were working on hitting a ball 90 miles an hour that he probably wasn’t going to see for another four years.”
The work paid off. Veen made the varsity team as an undersized freshman, starting at first base.
Veen was the top high school player in the 2020 Draft class, a five-tool beast who has scouts drooling over the projectability of his 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame.
A growth spurt shot him past the six-foot mark, though at 145 pounds, Veen was still considered too small to be a real prospect by the end of his sophomore season, relegating him to the “B” team for his summer travel program.
“I wanted to prove people wrong that didn't think I was as good as the other kids,” Veen said. “I always believed I was one of the better players in the country and I just really want to show everybody what I believed.”
Veen -- who had moved to center field -- began to fill out that summer, putting on about 20 pounds. During the early months of his junior year, Veen started working out with Austin Hays, a fellow Spruce Creek alum who had been drafted by the Orioles in the third round in 2016, and Patrick Mazeika, who played at nearby Stetson University before being drafted by the Mets in the eighth round in 2015.
Hanging around with two professional players gave Veen another glimpse into what his future might look like if he worked hard enough. And working hard enough had never been his problem.
“He would practice with the team and then when the team was done, Pat and I would hit in the cage and he'd stay after and take even more swings,” said Hays, who started 15 games in center for the Orioles as a callup last September. “He was doing twice as much work as anyone else that was out there.”
Veen was also putting on more muscle, getting stronger and faster in the process. Although his weight jumped from 160 to 185, his 60-year-dash time dropped from 6.9 seconds to 6.7.
“To see him grow from being a kid that was 160 pounds and had a good swing – but he was weak and really wasn't that fast – into someone who is a true threat on the bases and at the plate, he did all of that himself,” Hays said. “We were just there to help him along the way, but it was all on him. He wanted to put in more work and train with guys that were professional athletes because that's something he wanted to achieve for himself.
“For a 16-year-old to be able to put in the same amount of work as what 24-year-old professional athletes are doing goes to show you what kind of drive he must have.”
The questions would fly fast and furious. What should I eat? How much weight should I lift? How often should I long-toss? Veen’s thirst for knowledge was unquenchable.
“I think it really gives me an advantage over a lot of other players because a lot of guys don't learn a lot of the things that they know until they get into college or pro ball,” Veen said. “All the information they gave me sets me apart.”
By the spring season of his junior year, Veen was a dude-in-waiting. His plate discipline was unlike that of most players his age, while his power and speed continued to blossom.
“He plays with a confidence that you don't see most people have; you can get him out and he doesn't get deterred,” Goodrich said. “He’s not just constantly developing his swing. He’s constantly developing his whole game.”
Committed to the University of Florida, Veen is eager for the next phase of his career. If that means going pro with Colorado, bring it on. If it means becoming a Gator, he’ll become the first person in his family to attend college.
“Knowing how hard I worked when I was younger and even now, I know I put in the work to be in this situation,” Veen said. “It just feels like it's always been leading up to this moment.”
Veen has drawn comparisons to MVP winners Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich, while other names such as Charlie Blackmon and Kyle Tucker have also been mentioned as comps for the 18-year-old.
Some teenagers might shy away from such comparisons. Veen isn’t most teenagers.
“I definitely embrace it,” Veen said. “I believe I can be one of those players; I know I put in the work to be one of those players. Not only do I want to make it to the big leagues; I want to be an MVP. I want to be one of the best baseball players ever.”
It seems Veen has set a new goal for himself.