When Zach Petrick arrived in Johnson City last June for his first season of professional baseball, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
“I headed in there with no idea how I’d do, or even if I should be there,” Petrick said.
He’d been passed over in the annual MLB Amateur Draft, and was looking into plans to play independent ball and finish up school when he got the call from the St. Louis Cardinals asking him if he could make it to Tennessee.
There, Petrick joined a roster full of recent draftees and signees in one of the Cardinals' two rookie league affiliates. And, after starting in the bullpen, Petrick eventually wound up in the rotation due to injury and helped lead the Johnson City Cardinals to an Appalachian League championship.
“We got banged up and Zach had been solid for us in long relief, and when we moved him over, he played great and was a big part of the reason we won a championship,” former Johnson City pitching coach Dough White said.
Had he qualified, Petrick would have led the league in ERA. And even though he fell roughly eight innings shy of qualifying for that distinction, he did tie for the league-lead in wins by a starter and he finished 16 th in the Appalachian League in strikeouts, striking out 50 batters in 45 2/3 innings work.
Now, Petrick is hoping to continue to prove himself down in Jupiter, Fla. at St. Louis Cardinals' minor league spring training and wind up at one of the Cardinals full-season affiliates.
“I feel confident after how I played last year. I feel like I have a shot to get to those higher levels,” Petrick said. “Originally, I wasn’t sure how high I could rise in the organization, but after going 5-0 in Tennessee, I definitely feel like I could (eventually) play in Double-A or even higher.”
The success that Petrick had in Johnson City, was largely predicated on his ability to locate his high-80s to low-90s fastball. On the season, Petrick walked just nine batters and racked up a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.55-to-1, which also would have ranked him near the top of the league had he qualified.
“When I pitched well, it usually was because of my fastball — not really any of my off-speed stuff,” Petrick stated. “So while I’m down here in Florida, I definitely know I need to work on my off-speed pitches and try to perfect those as I head into next season.”
And if Petrick can continue to develop a more well-rounded pitch repertoire, it will go a long way towards helping him shatter the stigma that comes with being an undrafted prospect.
One of the problems with minor league baseball, as highlighted with Michael Lewis book turned Brad Pitt movie, Moneyball, is that the ability of a player to rise through the system is often curtailed by whether or not the organization views him as a prospect. Being undrafted or even being a late pick can put a perceived ceiling on a player.
Petrick had the metrics in his first season. His WHIP was under 1.00 at 0.92 and his fielder independent pitching (which helps isolate how a pitcher would do if his defense played consistently average) put his ERA at 2.50. However, if Petrick is going to work his way up in the organization, he’ll have to continue to develop his stuff.
“I definitely think I need to sharpen up the breaking ball a little and I just haven’t thrown the changeup much yet, so I have to gain a little bit more confidence with that,” Petrick said.
Ultimately, Petrick’s goal this spring is to earn a spot on a full-season affiliate. If he were successful, that would presumably put him in middle-A ball, where he’d be playing right down I-80 in Davenport.