Minor League Insider: Tryout results in spot in Rangers’ organization for two pitchers

Posted Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Elsewhere on the farm Triple A Round Rock: Right-hander Josh Lindblom set a season-high with nine strikeouts over six innings Friday. He allowed three runs on five hits, including two homers. … Outfielder Joey Butler went into Saturday with a season-high nine-game hitting streak, batting .406 over that stretch. Double A Frisco: Right-hander Kyle McClellan has a 3.68 ERA over 16 relief appearances, and has not allowed a run in seven of his last nine. … Right-hander Luke Jackson has not allowed a run over 18 innings in his first four games, including three starts, with the RoughRiders. Low A Hickory: Third baseman Joey Gallo is having his best month in August, batting .308 over 15 games going into Saturday. He also has five home runs this month, and 31 for the season. … Former University of Texas left-hander Sam Stafford has a 2.38 ERA over his last 10 relief appearances, including a 0.87 ERA over his last five.

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Australia.

That’s where Michael Zouzalik planned to extend his baseball career after college. He had two respectable seasons at UT Pan American, but hadn’t drawn interest from scouts except for a random questionnaire sent to him by the San Francisco Giants.

Scouts, after all, are looking for something that sets players apart in college, especially right-handed pitchers considering it’s the position with the most depth throughout the country.

The 6-foot-3 Zouzalik had gone 7-3 with a 4.15 ERA over 15 starts and seven relief appearances over two seasons at UTPA, and only topped out at 92 mph with his fastball. So all signs pointed to Australia rather than affiliated ball if Zouzalik wanted to keep playing.

“I didn’t have anything else lined up, so I told the Australian team that I would go ahead and do it,” he said.

Sometimes, though, all you need is a one in 400 chance. And that’s what Zouzalik got when he signed up for an open tryout with the Rangers last August at The Dell Diamond in Round Rock.

“I was headed to Australia in my mind and was just going for the heck of it,” Zouzalik said. “I told myself, ‘See what happens.’”

What happened was Zouzalik lit up the radar gun like he’d never done before. Instead of topping out at 92 mph, he was sitting in the 92 mph range and touching 95 mph. He had spent the previous two months going to summer school and working out on his own, and those long-toss sessions between study sessions paid off.

The Rangers had a few of their amateur scouts at the tryout, including manager of amateur scouting Bobby Crook, and all felt Zouzalik was the one of the 400-plus players at the workout worth taking a gamble on.

“It’s definitely a thing where you’re looking for somebody to ‘wow’ you,” Crook said. “Mike had the entire package. Good body, good frame, he’s athletic and threw the ball hard. He had a feel for his fastball, feel for his breaking ball.

“We talk about it all the time about how there are some guys who slip through the cracks for whatever reason. Mike was a guy in Division I, but not in a heavily scouted conference and not a lot of people knew of him. But that’s why we hold those [open tryouts].”

So far, it’s worked out for Zouzalik and the Rangers. He’s not close to the big leagues, but he’s shown that he might make it one day after his first full year in the organization.

The 23-year-old had a 1.35 ERA over his first 14 relief appearances at Short A Spokane this season, and earned a promotion to High A Myrtle Beach earlier this month. Zouzalik opened without allowing an earned run in his first six outings with the Pelicans, but had his roughest professional outing — giving up five earned runs on four hits over an inning — on Friday.

“Worst outing of the season, but I felt really good up until that point,” Zouzalik said. “I definitely feel like I belong in affiliated ball. I wouldn’t say I have a chip on my shoulder, but I definitely feel like I got passed over in the draft and all that stuff so I definitely want to prove to people that I can do it.”

Zouzalik isn’t alone in the longest of long shots in the organization, either. The Rangers held another open tryout this past week, and signed another right-handed pitcher, Britt Robertshaw, the only one of more than 275 participants to get a contract. Robertshaw, who played at Tarleton State, impressed in a similar fashion as Zouzalik, touching 94 mph with his fastball and showing good feel for his slider and changeup.

Coincidentally, those two grew up together in the Cedar Park area and took the same path to the professional ranks.

“It’s one of those small world-type deals,” Crook said. “But all we have given them is an opportunity and now it’s up to them to take that opportunity and make the most of it.”

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @drewdavison

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