If you were to read Zach Petrick’s stat line thus far in 2013, it wouldn’t read like that of a person who was nearly out of baseball just over a year ago. But, after the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft concluded, that’s exactly what he was.
After a solid amateur career, first at Morris Community High School, then at Joliet Junior College and finally at the University of Northwestern Ohio, Petrick saw 40 rounds come and go without hearing his name called. His mind turned towards playing independent ball and finishing school.
That’s when he got a call from the St. Louis Cardinals.
They needed pitching help, and Petrick jumped at the chance. He spent last season in Johnson City with their rookie affiliate and prospered despite relatively low expectations. He pitched well and moved from the bullpen and into the starting rotation, and finished with a 5-0 record and a sterling 2.17 ERA.
It was enough to keep him around for at least one more year, and in the spring his goal was to break camp with a full-season affiliate. He did exactly that when he started the year with the Peoria Chiefs, the Cardinals regular-A squad.
“When I got there, I was excited because I’ve always played around that area,” Petrick said. “That was the place that I obviously wanted to go to from the start because it was close to home and it was a full-season team.”
It would have been easy for him to be content with a chance to continue playing and do so close to home. Instead, working with pitching coach Jason Simontacchi, a former Cardinals starter, he set new goals and met or exceeded virtually every single one.
And he didn’t just improve, he was downright dominant. After starting as a long reliever, the Chiefs quickly moved him into the closer’s role where Petrick earned All-Star honors, locking down eight saves, striking out 46 batters in 32 2/3 innings and posting a 0.83 ERA. It began to give Zach a new outlook towards his goals of making the Big Leagues.
“I could have never told you that I’d have the type of success that I’m having right now,” he said. “I know that I can do it, and I’ve gained a lot of confidence in the past season. I’m hoping to just ride this wave and keep working on the little things.”
He didn’t give up an earned run during the entire month of May (a stretch of 15 1/3 innings) and was named organization’s pitcher of the month. Then on May 31 he got the call that he was being promoted to St. Louis’ advanced-A affiliate in Palm Beach, FL.
It was a major step for Petrick’s status as a prospect, as the Florida State League features many top selections from last year’s draft. However, Petrick didn’t lose any momentum from his performance in Peoria.
Petrick made his first appearance on Jun. 2 and he’s extended his scoreless streak to 25 1/3 innings in the five games since his call up. As the stakes increase, Petrick continues to rise to the occasion.
“Petrick, from the get go, had the demeanor of a professional pitcher,” Simontacchi said in a phone interview shortly after Petrick’s call-up. “He works on his pitches every day and he came out throwing strikes with all three pitches.”
The professional attitude is likely a byproduct of Petrick’s naturally stoic demeanor and a childhood spent watching his brother Billy rise through the ranks of the Chicago Cubs organization, eventually spending 9 2/3 innings with the Major League club in 2007.
However, there is an unquestionable difference in their journey. As a third-round pick with a sizeable signing bonus, Billy was an investment that merited protecting by the Chicago Cubs.
As an undrafted free agent, Zach has had to earn his status as a prospect, and he’s done exactly that.
It’d be silly to expect Zach to continue at this pace—his ERA on the season is at 0.63 while his ERA with the Palm Beach Cardinals is still stuck on goose eggs—but he’ll have to continue to prove himself every step of the way.
“He needs the experience,” Simontacchi said. “He probably needs to go through a little bit of failure to see if he can rebound because it’s going to happen no matter what.”
Ultimately, Zach Petrick still has a long way to go and many challenges to overcome before he ever sees a Major League paycheck. However, in just over a year, he’s come a lot farther than anyone would have expected for a guy who was nearly out of baseball.