Friday, January 16, 2009

2009 Top Prospect List: #15 Zach Stewart, rhp

Zach Stewart
Height 6-2, Weight 205, B/T: R/R, DOB: 09/28/1986
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked

Zach Stewart is one of the promising power relief arms in the Reds farm system. It's a testament to the renewed strength of the Reds farm system that they have so many intriguing relievers. To me, the old axiom that "relievers are failed starters" rings true. If you don't have quality starting pitching prospects in the system, then those prospects better suited to relief will still be used as starting pitchers. Once you get quality starting pitching prospects, then the lesser prospects can be shifted to relief roles. As for Stewart, the Reds were able to keep him in the relief role that he filled in college and may advance him quickly through the farm system.


Stewart spent three years in college, spending time at three separate universities. Stewart distinguished himself at Texas Tech, after stints at North Central Texas College and a semester at Angelo State University. Scouts were impressed by Stewart, despite the fact that he only posted a 4.98 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, and 43/21 K/BB ratio in 47.0 innings. Clearly, a 4.0 BB/9 and 8.2 K/9 aren't bad ratios, but they're hardly eye-popping. Obviously, it was the live arm that impressed the scouts.

Stewart features two primary pitches: a heavy fastball that sits in the 95-97 mph range and an average slider with plus potential. His fastball also has good movement, which improves its effectiveness. Scouts rate him as having plus control, but his walk rates seem to suggest otherwise. It may well be that he has plus command of his fastball, but mediocre command of his slider. Obviously, a larger sample size will reveal more about his control.

In addition, scouts are impressed with his demeanor on the mound, believing that he may have the right temperament to work high leverage innings. The Reds have Francisco Cordero under control through at least 2011 and an option for 2012, but scouts believe that Stewart profiles well as a closer in the future.


The Reds selected Stewart with the 84th overall pick in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft. Personally, I found the selection a bit curious, as college relievers are often more volatile and lower ceiling than other prospects. In addition, the Reds didn't have a second round draft pick, so it would seem to be more advisable to select a prospect with higher upside. That said, the selection did get good reviews from Baseball America, so only time will tell.

After the Reds signed Stewart, they sent him to low-A Dayton, where he was stellar. He posted a 0.55 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 13/3 K/BB ratio in 16.1 innings. He clearly dominated, but realistically speaking he should perform well against that level of competition. His dominance earned him a promotion to high-A Sarasota. At Sarasota, Stewart posted a 1.62 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, and 23/11 K/BB ratio in 16.2 innings. Obviously, he had no difficulty with class A ball competition, but he wasn't quite as good as it may seem. At Dayton, his FIP was 2.45 and at Sarasota it was 2.60. So, in actuality, he was very good, but not outstanding.

To me, there are two questions on Stewart. 1) How good is his control? 2) How much of his 2008 success was achieved simply by overwhelming a lower level of competition with a plus fastball? The answers to those questions will determine just how successful he'll be in 2009 against more advanced competition and just how quickly he'll arrive at the MLB level.


Stewart is reputed to have pretty clean mechanics. However, after taking a second and third look, a few potential red flags jump out at me. But, let's start off with the good. First off, Stewart has a smooth delivery and a free-and-easy arm action. Despite his high velocity, he's not a max-effort type pitcher. He has a strong leg kick that includes some coiling of the body and bringing his knee up to his chest.

Unfortunately, the free-and-easy arm action comes with a cost. The reason his arm action looks so syrupy smooth is that it's long in the back. After he breaks his hands, he's slow to get his arm up into throwing position. Part of the reason for this is that he gets his throwing elbow up a bit too high, bringing it up above shoulder level. This arm action forces his arm to lag behind, as it takes longer to bring it up to throwing position. The general rule is that a pitcher should have his pitching arm up into throwing position when the plant foot lands. That's not the case with Stewart, whose long arm action can cause his pitching arm to lag behind and not be in proper position when his plant foot lands. In fact, at times his pitching arm is almost parallel to the ground when his plant foot lands (Stewart's arm action is similar to that of Anthony Reyes in this photo, though less extreme. You can see that Reyes' plant foot is down and that his pitching arm is still almost parallel to the ground. Also, his pitching elbow is above shoulder level). The lag adds stress to the arm and hinders his ability to maximize the power generated by his leg drive. Accordingly, instead of throwing with his entire body, he throws more with just his arm, which is the more stressful way to generate velocity.

Overall, Stewart has the potential for an increased risk of injury over the course of his career. Fortunately, Stewart's role as a reliever will limit his workload and help prevent injury.

You can see his MLB draft scouting video here.


Stewart is an intriguing power arm. Unfortunately, he comes with several significant question marks. His mechanics may increase his injury risk and he may not be able to effectively command his secondary stuff. It'll be interesting to see how he fares in a larger sample size against more advanced competition. For now, Stewart checks in at #15, but given his dual risk, both performance and injury, I have a few doubts about his future. That said, he has a very live power arm and could advance quickly up the ladder if he demonstrates good command.


  1. Would be nice if you are going to talk about someone that you would at least know their history a litte. Zach pitched for 2 seasons at North Central Texas College, he spent the fall only at Angelo State University. He was an all region selection both years at NCTC, where he both started a conference game and was asked to close one later in the week. He once pitched a 12 inning complete game versus Temple College and was still 91 on the stalker in the 12th inning. Zach's unimpressive college numbers his Junior year were entirely due to his first start which came with 3 weeks left in the season versus Oklahoma where after striking out 5 of 6 in the first 2 innings he lost command in the 3rd and eventually game up 9 earned runs and had 5 walks in 2 2/3 innings.
    Not totally unexpected for someone that had been trained since the fall to throw 25 pitches every day.

  2. Hey Anon,

    Thanks for the tip. I actually do as much research as possible on each of these prospects and use as many sources as I can find before writing anything up. Unfortunately, community college baseball stats, stories, and information aren't as widely available as one might think. The source I found indicated that Stewart spent a year at Angelo State University, not just a semester. However, judging by your level of knowledge about Zach Stewart, I'm guessing that you're either a relative or a former coach of his, so I'll take your word on it.

    As for his college stats being dragged down by a spot start, that's not surprising given the nature of college baseball. I love college baseball and its inherent differences from the MLB game, from the metal bats to the different usage patterns for the pitchers. Unless a pitcher is a "Friday starter," then a bit of volatility in usage isn't that surprising. College managers don't adhere to strict pitch counts like the MLB and they frequently move pitchers to different roles to meet the needs of the team. And, of course, all the different nuances of college ball have to be factored into the statistics, because statistics are nothing without context.

    So, one could argue that his performance could be viewed as better than his stats, because he was forced to work as a starter. Or, one could argue that a lot of college pitchers are frequently used in different roles, so it's not that unusual.

    Regardless, scouts are very high on Stewart and he has a tremendous arm. I would have rated him higher, but I tend to rate relievers a bit lower because they work fewer innings. That said, given his arm, he could move very quickly and ultimately pitch high leverage innings at the MLB level. Time will tell.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!!

  3. Thank You for your response. Zach actually beacame the Friday night starter for the last three weeks of the season and became better with each start, actually leaving the game versus Oklahoma State with the lead and beating Baylor. The Reds even considered using him as a starter and asked him which role he would prefer.
    Time will definetly tell.

  4. Hey Anon,

    Thanks for the info. I'm a bit surprised that the Reds asked him which role he would prefer. I assume he chose relief and the Reds honored his wishes. I wonder if he had chosen starting, would the Reds would have put him in the rotation? Most of the baseball pundits assumed that the Reds drafted him to be a reliever in the hopes that he would need very little development time and could be pitching in the majors in the very near future.

    As for his time as a Friday night starter, I'm not surprised. I am, however, a bit surprised that he didn't spend MORE time in the rotation at the collegiate level. I knew he got 3 starts for Tech, but given his tremendous arm I would have thought they'd give him a longer look as a starter. I would imagine that they had him pegged as a reliever when he arrived at Tech and by the time they realized just how good he was, it was difficult to stretch him out to start.

    It'll be fun to see how Zach fares in 2009. I read a blurb today from a Baseball America writer that said that he could reach the majors in 2009. In the next couple of seasons, he could team with Jared Burton and Josh Roenicke to give the Reds a lights out bullpen for years to come. Given the arms and abilities of those three, it would be a bullpen reminiscent of the Nasty Boys. These guys all have shutdown arms that could shorten games to 6 innings. It seems that whenever the Reds are good they have a tremendous bullpen, so I'm hopeful all these guys pan out.

    Thanks for the comment!!!

  5. Lark,
    First of all, your comments on Zach's pitching mechanics in the video of him were totally correct. And,sadly, it was even worse when he pitched out of a stretch. As "Anonymous" pointed out, in the OU game the fist two innings went very well, but in the 3rd inning, after walking the leadoff batter, Zach went to the stretch and the wheels came off from there. Pitching is no different from hitting, when you are mechanically off and no one can point out to you what you are doing wrong. Unfortunately for Zach, none of the coaches at Tech were ex-pitchers and could not see the problem in order to help him.
    After the OU game, a pro scout for the Dodgers, Calvin Jones (an ex-pitcher) zeroed in on what was wrong with Zach and, fortunately, came and spoke with me and told me what to tell Zach was wrong. He was leaving the rubber before his hands separated, causing him to be way out in front of his pitching arm, which in turn was flattening out his pitches. He worked on this before his next two starts, which helped his next two outtings considerably. When he got with the Reds, they corrected it even more. By correcting this, it has helped his control problem and has helped the movement on his fastball and slider. And, FYI, he also throws a 3rd pitch, a changeup, which he spent a lot of time in instructional league working on.
    Enjoyed the article....thanks for the comments! Zach's dad

  6. Mr Stewart,

    First, I really appreciate you stopping by to provide this information. It's really great to find out a bit more inside information about Zach's transition from the collegiate to the professional level.

    I must say, I'm really impressed that Calvin Jones would take the time to offer advice to Zach about the problem he had with his mechanics. It's nice to see a scout take the time to help out a player, even though that player isn't a member of his organization. It gives the impression that there is a larger baseball community where everyone just wants to see the "kids" do well. To me, there's really something pretty cool about that.

    As for Texas Tech, I must admit that I'm surprised they didn't have a true pitching coach on staff. I know that college coaching quality and style varies greatly across the country, but I would have thought that a bigger program like Tech would have an experienced pitching coach on staff.

    I completely agree with you about mechanics, whether hitting or pitching, as it's very easy to get off track and very difficult to find success when you do. I'm glad to hear that he's getting his mechanics ironed out, because he clearly had one of the best arms in his draft class. If he gets his body back in sync in his delivery, then he could really take off and rocket up the ladder.

    Interesting to see him working on a changeup, which is my favorite pitch, as it always seems like the ultimate "pitcher's pitch." It works off deception and upsetting a hitter's timing, rather than any raw ability. If Zach can pair his top notch heater with a quality changeup, then he could be brutally tough on the timing of the hitters. Given his stuff, he really doesn't need a third pitch to be a successful MLB reliever, but it'll only help if he can add another weapon to his arsenal.

    Another impressive aspect of your comment is that the Reds identified the problem and continued to work with him to correct it. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that always would have been the case.

    Back in the 1990s when Marge Schott still ran the team, she decimated the scouting department. To say that she was frugal was an understatement, as she even refused to pay for scouts because "all they ever do is watch baseball games." Given that kind of philosophy, it's not surprising that the Reds scouting and player development departments were terrible for years. Only recently have they begun to climb out of the hole that Marge dug. Over the past several years, the Reds have really focused their efforts on rebuilding a top notch farm system and it has begun to pay off in a big way. It seems from the instruction that Zach is receiving that he is already benefiting from those renewed efforts. In the past, if I was a young pitching prospect, then the Reds organization is about the last place I'd want to be. Thankfully, that's no longer the case, as now it's one of the best.

    Anyway, thanks again for the great insight and the kind words, I do appreciate it!! I'll be rooting for Zach to make it to the show and hoping that you get to see it when he does. I can't imagine very much can compete with getting to see your son pitch in a big league game. Anyway, take care and don't be a stranger!!


  7. Mr. Stewart, has Zach heard where he'll be the starting the season at? I'm curious to see if the Reds start him in Double-A or if they send him back to Sarasota.

  8. Zach has not been told anything about where he will be this season, but his agent met with the Reds at the winter meetings and they told him that their plans were for Zach to start at Double-A unless he was to have a bad spring training. In that case he would start back in Sarasota at high-A.

  9. Thanks. I appreciate the quick response. Tell Zach we're rooting for him. :)

  10. Glad to have Zach with the Jays! Mr stewart: how does zach feel about the trade?