Rox prospect Veen motivated following surgery

July 3rd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding’s Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Rockies outfield prospect Zac Veen didn’t stay down long.

On June 22, Veen was groggy and about 10 minutes into his recovery from left wrist tendon surgery when he showed his spirit. With two fingers up on his left hand, he let the world know he was at peace.

Or was he predicting victory?

Veen, 21, was the Rockies’ top MLB Pipeline prospect and the No. 29 prospect overall at the time. The injury, which he sustained last summer at High-A Spokane, but never went on the injured list for and played through until he couldn’t anymore, led to a .209 average with two homers and 24 RBIs in 46 games this season at Double-A Hartford.

The injury and his struggles led to being dropped to 72nd overall and No. 2 in the system, behind rapidly developing Spokane infielder Adael Amador, who has risen to 24th overall.

But Veen, who is living in Arizona and rehabbing at the team’s Scottsdale training center, points to two reasons he will be back and better:

• Power was just one of the reasons the Rockies selected him ninth overall in 2020. Being robbed of it allowed him to showcase his speed and concentrate on defense and throwing.

• Playing nearly a year with the injury might not have been best for his numbers, but it fostered a toughness that will be beneficial when he returns.

“This whole deal gave me one of the biggest chips on my shoulder I could ask for,” Veen said.

The injury occurred when he attempted a diving play in the outfield. Few knew how much he was hurting when he lashed two hits in the SiriusXM Futures Game at Dodger Stadium during last year’s All-Star Weekend.

“I knew it was messed up and I was hoping that surgery wasn’t the case,” Veen said. “But I had heard in the past [that] you’ve got to be able to play through injury, through soreness in professional baseball.

“I might have taken that a little bit too much to heart.”

Veen’s power disappeared. He had 11 homers at Spokane but just one after being promoted to Hartford. He batted .177 in 34 games to finish last season. Veen earned Arizona Fall League Offensive Player of the Year honors by hitting .333 with an .869 OPS and eight steals in 10 attempts, but just one homer.

This year, the Rockies brought Veen to his first Major League Spring Training, where he hit .280 with two doubles, two doubles and eight steals in nine attempts -- three in one game against the Mariners.

With a goal of making the Majors this year, Veen pushed ahead.

Veen lifted an opposite-field home run for Hartford on April 15 …

… but he managed just one more before informing the Rockies that the wrist wasn’t improving and needed further examination.

According to his agent, Jason Romano, upper-extremities surgeon Dr. Michelle Carlson said it was one of the most damaged ligaments she had seen.

Veen said he got advice from Rockies second baseman Brendan Rodgers, who also grew up in the Orlando area and has mentored Veen; Orioles All-Star outfielder Austin Hays; his high school coach, Johnny Goodrich; and his trainer, Jeff Higuera. But Veen had never been hurt, and took a while to realize how much his play was compromised.

Veen also was dealing with a different kind of pain.

Earlier this season, his grandfather, Arthur Lucas, whom Veen called “Pop Pop,” passed away at age 80.

“He was a special dude -- it’s hard to put into words,” said Veen, who said his mother, Chrissy Franks, has helped him through everything. “He watched my games, but the best thing was we had a relationship that he didn’t really care how baseball was -- we just connected as family.”

Veen is considering playing winter ball if his wrist recovers properly, then returning to the goal of making an impact when he reaches the Rockies.

“I know what I want to do,” Veen said. “I want to change this organization. I know what I want to do by the time my time is up here. I’m not looking at anything as a setback. I’m making this whole process one big positive.”