In advance of Thursday's draft, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be drafted in the first round. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next up is right-hander T.J. Zeuch, a 6-foot-7, 225 lb. right-hander from the University of Pittsburgh. Zeuch, a Mason, Ohio native, posted a stellar 6-1 record and 3.10 ERA for the Panthers after returning from a groin injury this season. Zeuch is thought of as an intimidating force on the mound due to his frame and velocity (touching 96-97 mph), and has consistently risen in mock draft projections. For more on Zeuch, check out Minor League Ball's scouting report.
Zeuch is projected as a mid-to-late first-rounder, with ESPN pegging him to the Astros with the 17th overall pick, BA projecting him to the Blue Jays at No. 21, and MLB.com predicting that he will go the Cardinals with the 23rd selection. He was recently ranked by BA as the 20th best prospect in this year's draft, and spoke with MLBDD earlier this week:
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realize you had a passion for the game?
"I first got into baseball when I was probably 5 or 6 years old. That's when I really learned how to throw a baseball. When I started playing T-ball, I just fell in love with it. That love for the game has lasted ever since. I really became more serious about it in high school, that's usually the age where you get more serious. I looked into playing in college and playing at the next level."
Growing up, did you have a favorite team? Favorite player?
"My favorite team growing up was the Dodgers. Kansas City as well, my dad actually played for Kansas City for a little bit. Growing up watching Adam Wainwright, he's probably my favorite, still to this day. And more recently, Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez."
When was the moment that you realized your dream could come true and that you may be able to make a pro career out of your talents?
"After I was drafted out of high school, I realized it was a very real possibility for me. I just had to improve a lot to make it more realistic. I focused a lot on that while I was in school for three years. Obviously, it has paid off."
You were drafted three years ago by the Royals in the 31st round. How does that experience help prepare you for this year's draft? What went into your decision to go to school at that point?
"It's helped me a little bit. Obviously, out of high school I wasn't nearly this highly rated and I didn't have to worry about anything on the first day of the draft. Now the situation is different, being more than likely to be selected on the first day. It's a little different in that sense. Having gone through the process and having an understanding of how it works helps me a little bit, it helps me relax a little bit. The decision to go to school was pretty easy for me. I was only 17 out of high school, and I knew I wasn't ready for professional baseball. I was one of those kids who threw hard enough to blow it past guys in high school. My off-speed stuff was average at best. I knew I had a lot of improvements to make. I also wasn't ready to be in the real world on my own."
Why Pitt? Which other schools were seriously interested?
"The other schools that were interested in me heavily were Michigan State, Notre Dame, Boston College and Cincinnati. Those along with Pitt were who it came down to at the end. I ended up choosing Pitt because when I went up there for a visit, it was just the school that felt the best for me. I fell in love with the city, the coaches and the facilities. It's all like a second home to me."
How beneficial has it been to face the strong competition in the ACC for three years?
"I think it's helped me tremendously in order to prepare me for the next level. Pitching against guys like [Miami's] Zack Collins every weekend, or [Miami's] Willie Abreu and [Virginia's] Matt Thaiss and various other guys who have made names for themselves in the game... I think it's going to help me a lot when I see professional hitters, guys who are like that. The lineups are similarly talented to those guys, 1 through 9. Facing guys like those guys every weekend has prepared me to face professional hitters."
You've been the staff ace at Pitt for virtually your entire stint at the school. How have you responded to having that pressure on you, to be the team's bona fide ace?
"It's meant the world to me, being that go-to guy. I wanted to be, this year more than anything, that guy that my team knew, no matter who we were playing, that we would not only have a chance to win, but that we were more than likely to win."
You've seen a significant uptick in velocity since being in college. To what do you attribute that?
"Half of it is due to age, being 20 years old and naturally getting bigger and stronger. The strength and conditioning program at Pitt, as well as the throwing program there... they do a tremendous job with pitchers. I've built a lot of arm strength along with the rest of my body, especially my legs. I think that's helped me a ton with gaining velocity and maintaining that velocity."
Every scouting report on you mentions how "intimidating" you are on the mound. Is that just a product of your 6-foot-7 frame, or is there something else that causes you to intimidate hitters?
"I think for the most part it has to do with my frame and size. Seeing a 6-foot-7 guy on top of a mound making him even taller, has got to be sight to see. I'm very upright, the way I carry myself is very confident. I think sometimes a guy my size who is throwing as hard as I do... when hitters see a pitcher like that carry himself with that confidence, I think that might be a little intimidating for some guys. I think for the most part, I would have to agree it's my frame and size."
Growing up in a cold-weather state in Ohio and then going to Pitt, you didn't get the chance to play year-round like some other prospects in this draft. Do you think your development is different than the development of some other guys? Is your arm significantly fresher?
"I think my experiences are very different. They play year-round, I don't. I get to rest. I think it does make me a little more fresh than those guys who get worn out, year-round. The winter in Pittsburgh and Ohio forces you to work other muscles than constantly throwing all the time, so I think that takes some miles off the arm and saves a lot of bullets for later."
You made four starts in the Cape Cod League last summer, posting a 1.31 ERA and turning the heads of scouts in the process. What was that experience like?
"It was great. It was a culmination of all the hard work that I put in during my freshman and sophomore years. Everything came together. It was also an opportunity to prove that my outing against [Virginia's] Nathan Kirby earlier in the year [in which Zeuch threw 8 shutout innings and Pitt won 1-0 last season] wasn't just a fluke. I could do that consistently."
What would you say is your biggest strength?
"My competitiveness. I'm going to back down from any hitter, regardless of the situation. With my size, a lot of guys expect me to be more wild than most pitchers. One of my biggest strengths is that I'm not very wild at all, I don't walk very many guys. That keeps my infield in it, keeps my outfielders in it. It keeps the game interesting and keeps it in rhythm."
A lot of guys go into the draft throwing extremely hard but having limited control, but you have three controllable pitches that can keep hitters guessing. How important is that to your game?
"That's the most important thing to me. It would be great if I could throw 105 miles an hour, but at the next level, if that's all you've got they can hit it hard anyway. It doesn't matter how hard you can throw. Being able to sit in the low-to-mid 90s and touch the upper 90s is great, I think those other two or three pitches that you can throw for strikes are more important. If they don't know what's coming, their job is even harder than it already is."
What's the biggest weakness in your game, or the thing you want to improve upon the most?
"I think my biggest weakness is being too hard on myself. Even sometimes if I do have a quality start, I'm always looking for the negatives. A lot of people would agree that's a strength, and it can be at times, but sometimes it can make the game very daunting for me and very challenging to enjoy, especially when I'm not pitching so well. I think with maturity, I've gotten a lot better since I was a freshman in college."
Which major-leaguer, current or former, would you say reminds you of yourself the most?
"I always say Adam Wainwright. Similar build, similar pitch style. Fastball with tail in the low-to-mid 90s and a curveball for an out pitch. I think our deliveries are very similar, and smooth. Of anyone in the major-leaguers, I think that's who I compare to the most."
Finally, what is your honest expectation for the draft? Any specific teams showing the most interest?
"My honest expectation is to be a first-round pick. Where in the first round, I couldn't tell you. Every team from, I'd say, [pick number] 9 down, has shown equal interest. Really, as much as I'd love to know right now exactly where I'll be... I have absolutely no idea."