During last week’s MLB Draft, the Phillies took a different approach to their picks than they have in recent years. Philadelphia had been notorious for drafting high-risk, high-reward high school prospects who wouldn’t even smell the big leagues for 3-5 years. 2015 first-round pick Cornelius Randolph, who made the switch from shortstop to outfield after being drafted, is still only in High-A ball two years after he was drafted. 2016 first-overall pick Mickey Moniak is playing for the Class-A Lakewood BlueClaws. He turned 19 just over a month ago, and we may not see him in the pinstripes for 3 more years at the very least.
The Phillies took 8 college talents with their first 10 picks last Monday. For every pick made by the organization, read our own Ryan Kim’s recap.
With their 9th-round draft pick, the Phillies selected third baseman Jack Zoellner from the University of New Mexico. The 6’2″ left-handed batter was the 2017 Mountain West Tony Gwynn Co-Player of the Year and signed with the Phillies last week. He also agreed to partake in an interview with me via Twitter. So without further ado, let’s get into some of the answers from one of the newest Phillies in the organization.
Jack Pontin: Were you watching the draft when you were selected? What were the reactions like from you and your family when you heard the news?
Jack Zoellner: Yes. My family and I were watching it at my house when it happened. Some tears of joy were shed from my family and it’s been such a surreal feeling. [There is] no better feeling.
JP: Were you a highly sought after recruit in high school? What was the appeal of playing at New Mexico?
JZ: I was getting a lot of attention from colleges and pro teams, but I decided to go to college. There’s no better hitting school than New Mexico and also home one of the best hitting instructors in the country, [Head] Coach [Ray] Birmingham. I wanted to go there and learn to become a better hitter and to prepare myself for the next level.
JP: So it seems as if your numbers dropped off a bit during your Junior season, but skyrocketed this year. What adjustments did you make last offseason to get the power numbers and batting average up? And the strikeouts and errors down?
JZ: During my Junior year, I played the last 20 games with a sprained left wrist so I had a very hard time getting the barrel [to the ball]. We had other guys injured in our infield so I decided to tough it out. It was a battle of adjustments for sure, but it was also a blessing in disguise. I was able to mature myself more as a hitter. I was also able to get in great shape while I was rehabbing my wrist last Summer. So I came back in the fall fresh and back on a mission to fulfill my lifelong dream.
JP: It is my understanding that you suffered a hand injury towards the end of this season. How is the rehab on that coming along?
JZ: That is correct. It’s coming along great. Doctors are saying it’s healing quick, but I am also making sure I am 100%. I am flying down to Florida [this] week to finish rehab.
JP: You are listed as a first baseman by UNM, but the Phillies drafted you as a third baseman. Have you played much third base before? How do you feel about the possibility of having to play a new position at the professional level?
JZ: I have played 3rd [base] my whole life, but when I got to UNM as a freshman, I would have had the most playing time playing 1st [base]. They ended up keeping me there because they said I saved so many errors. I am more than excited to play 3rd again, and I believe that is where I belong. But, wherever the Phillies want to put me, I will be more than happy to play.
JP: What do you think is one aspect of your game that made the Phillies pull the trigger on drafting you?
JZ: My maturity as a hitter and ability to drive the ball to all fields. My mental game [is an aspect] as well.
JP: What members of the Phillies organization have you talked to in the past few days? Was there a conversation that stuck out to you more than the others?
JZ: Brad Holland is the area scout that I have talked to. He does a tremendous job of scouting and I felt a connection between him, the scouting director, and myself. He really pulled for me and was able to make some things happen for me that other teams couldn’t.
JP: When will you be making your professional debut? Any word on where you will be heading for your first assignment?
JZ: I am not too sure yet. I am meeting with Brad tonight (June 15) to get everything set in stone. I am just focused on getting my hand back to 100% and then go from there.
JP: What is one thing that you feel you need to focus on improving to achieve your goal of making it to the show?
JZ: You just said it. To stay focused and locked in everyday, every game, and every pitch. I think that’s the separator with most big leaguers–staying hungry.
JP: So I noticed that you’re from Arizona. Diamondbacks fan?
JZ: Yeah! Gotta be a fan of your hometown team. I like all of the teams. But being an employee of the Phillies now, I think they might have the slight edge!
JP: I was hoping that’d be your answer. But I’ve got to know, who is your favorite D-Back of all time and why?
JZ: Of all time you gotta go with Luis Gonzalez. I remember being 6-years-old when he hit that walk-off to win the World Series. That was awesome.
Us Phillies fans are hoping that Jack will one day have one of those all-so-rare walk-off hits in Game 7 of a World Series.
Phillies Nation would like to thank future-Phillie Jack Zoellner for agreeing to participate in the interview, and wish him the best of luck as he begins his journey to Citizens Bank Park. Follow him on Twitter @JZ_2588 and check out his college statistics on the New Mexico website.
Photo by UNM Communications (via Flickr)