On a Trenton Thunder roster that features four of MLB.com’s top ten Yankees prospects, 24-year old Zack Zehner quietly finds himself third on the team in hits (27) and is tied for third in the Eastern League in runs scored with 18. In his first taste of the minor leagues upper-levels, Zehner has shown the ability to make adjustments and simplify his approach in a quest to find consistency at one of the game’s most challenging levels.
The California Polytechnic State University product was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in the seventh round in 2014, but Zehner opted to return to school for his senior season and was selected the following summer by the Yankees in the 18th round. As a polished college hitter, Zehner has ascended quickly through the farm system in his brief time in the organization. After debuting with Staten Island, Zehner began 2016 in the Florida State League and had 107 hits in 109 games while slashing .278/.384/..374 with High-A Tampa.
The Yankees saw enough growth from the scrappy outfielder in his first full-season to bump him up to Double-A in 2017. Through 27 games of action, the 24-year old Zehner has proved he belongs, slashing .295/.362/.411 with one home run and 10 RBI and is currently tied for the league lead in triples with three.
“I’m trying not to do too much at the plate right now,” explained Zehner. “I’m just trying to stick with my approach at the plate; if you have a few bad at-bats, you just have to stick with your approach and trust that process because when you start changing things at the plate, it becomes a lot harder.”
Zehner added, “Guys here have quality off-speed stuff and locate it a lot better. When you are ahead in the count you’re getting a lot of off-speed pitches, but you know that going into it and you kind of work off of that. We have great scouting reports from our coaches, so we have a lot of information going into the game.”
It is easy to overlook Zehner in a clubhouse full of colorful personalities and highly-touted prospects. While he may not command the national attention that some of his teammates do, he has been as consistent and reliable as any player penciled in the lineup and that has helped propel the Thunder to a league best 19-11 start.
“The kid can just flat out hit,” said one scout from an AL West club. “His approach and path to the ball is about as good as anybody else on this Trenton team. The organization seems to have a lot of these outfield guys who all pretty much have the same tools and ceiling as a fourth outfielder kind of player.”
Since arriving in Trenton last season, Thunder Manager Bobby Mitchell has taken immense pride in having his team push the envelope and play with aggressiveness both on the bases and in the field. In the first six weeks of the season, Zehner has proven to be the model player for that style.
“He is very aggressive and I love that style of baseball,” Zehner said. “We’re going to take the extra bag, we’re going to steal in your face, we’re going to go first-to-third; those are the small things that are going to win games, especially here where it is tough to come by runs in this Eastern League.”
Keeping short-term goals and remaining focused on an a day to basis can sometimes feel impossible over the span of a grueling 140-plus game schedule while everyone on the roster is not only fighting to win games, but ultimately vying to win a job that you are battling for. Zehner knows where he needs to improve and admits that he keeps his goals in front of him without trying to think too far ahead.
“I think I definitely have room to grow in the outfield,” said Zehner. “You always have room to grow in the outfield. I’ve got that day-to-day process. That’s all I am worried about is each day, how I can get a little bit better. I don’t like to look at the scope of the year because that can be overwhelming in baseball.”