Friday, September 13, 2019

PhoulBallz Interview: LHP Zach Warren talks 2019 campaign, AFL, Phillies fandom

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Warren w/ Lakewood in 2018, image- J. Floyd
Lefty pitcher Zach Warren is fresh off another solid season in the Phillies' developmental ranks and is headed to the prestigious Arizona Fall League this off-season to work on his craft.

In 40 contests this year with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, Warren had a 1-3 record with seven saves, a 3.30 ERA and a 12.0 K/9 mark.  Last year he was a force at Class A Lakewood where he notched a 3-2 record with 15 saves, a 1.91 ERA and a 15.9 K/9 mark.

Warren, a Vineland, NJ native, was selected by the Phillies in the 14th round of the 2017 draft out of Tennessee.

Last week I chatted on the phone with Zach about his 2019 season, his pitch repertoire, his anticipation for AFL action, growing up as a Phillies fan and plenty more.  Read ahead for that interview.

-I feel like you started to grab attention with Lakewood last year.  You had a great season there and continue with some nice output this year in the Florida State League.  Can you talk about your 2019?

Yeah.  2019 was definitely a different year than Lakewood.  I feel like in Lakewood I had to feel around and find my way in the very beginning of the season but once I found it, I just kind of took off and ran away with it.  And really didn't look back and kept running.  2019 was a little bit different. I had to feel around again in the beginning of the season and make some adjustments and got on a few good stretches, but had hiccups in the middle.  I think it was a more challenging year, mentally, more than anything.  Just kind of finding out more and more about who I am as a pitcher and how to overcome when things aren't exactly going my way.  So, I think I learned a lot about adversity this year and how to make adjustments.  Other than that it was a good year.  We contended for the playoffs in both halves.  I met a lot of good guys, new guys that were called up and I made a lot of good friendships and it was a good time.

-Very cool.  With the transactions that occur- and this is every year- with guys going up, getting promoted and moving around, some people looking at you and your numbers, an argument could be made that, "Hey, here's a guy that could or should be in Double-A".  I'm not looking for you to dog the team for not putting you there, but do you feel like that's a challenge that you were ready for?

Um, I think anybody who starts out at a full season affiliate and breaks with a team after spring training thinks that they definitely have the ability to compete at the next level and it's something that they strive for.  Obviously, it's not in our control as players.  It's not really something that we can worry about because if it is something that you start to worry about on a daily basis, they it's definitely going to affect your play.  I definitely do think that I have the ability and the talent to compete at the next level and the next level and in the big leagues.  But I'm definitely trusting the guys that are in charge of the minor league system and that every move they make with every player is the best move for the organization and for that player.  So, I learned a lot by staying in Clearwater the whole year. But, I'm looking forward to hopefully having the challenge of Double-A coming up next season.

-I learned recently that you're going to the Arizona Fall League.  Is that something you can speak on?

Yeah, definitely.  Just started to get some logistics in order, getting my living arrangements together, getting my travel plans together.  I'm excited to just head out there after having a decent year in High A, just having the opportunity to go out there and be submerged in a ton of talent from the minor leagues with all these organizations' top prospects.  I'm excited to see how I match up against them.  I'm excited to learn more about myself as a pitcher.  Hopefully, encounter some challenges and make  adjustments and overcome just like I did this past year and see what it's like to be competing at the highest level I have competed at so far.

-I'll always have guys tell me they recognize the prestige that surrounds the league and they feel that it's an honor to go there.  Is that the case for you and were you surprised to be selected to go there?

Absolutely, yeah.  I had spoken with the Clearwater manager, Marty Malloy, and Josh Bonifay, our director of minor leagues.  And I spoke to them a week, maybe, prior about the possibility of going to play some winter ball and if I was interested in that if they wanted to set me up.  So, a week after that the manager called me in his office and I thought it was going to be something about winter ball placement and Josh let me know he had picked me to go to the fall league along with the other six guys we had chosen and I was definitely a little surprised, but also excited about it.  

I know it's a huge honor.  A lot of prestigious accolades come along with being selected for something like this and some really great players have gone to this league and I'm looking forward to continuing that type of legacy there, I guess you could say, just by going there, competing and doing my best.

-You talked about going there with the other players, JoJo (Romero) and the guys from Reading.  If you don't know, that's fine, but when that news of those names comes out, was there a reason your name was sort of a delayed addition or announcement?

I would say I don't know for sure.  I think they just take their time with decisions and make sure it's the right one.  I know that was a lot of guys that had really stellar years this year that they were probably considered to (send).  But for whatever reason maybe their personal choice or I don't know.  I'm speculating.  It just worked out in my favor that I'm the one selected to do this and if it's because they want to see me continue to perform after a pretty good year and see what I can do with some higher level talent around me then that's great and I'm excited to show them what I can do.  And if it just worked out situationally for me, then I'm happy that it worked out for me.

-What's the repertoire for you at this stage? Any additions or updates this year with the Threshers?

There was a little bit of both.  Over the off-season I tried to add a bit of a cut fastball which played really good in spring training for me.  I had a really good spring training.  And then in the beginning of the regular season, I kind of got into trouble with walks and we figured that the new cutter may have been the origin for some of the problem.  So they kind of let me know that they thought it would be best if I went with my three main pitches from the year prior.  Just a fastball, breaking ball and a change up.  So I used that for most of the year.  Toward the very end of the year, when I felt like I had gotten everything down and kind of felt like myself again, I started to play around with the cutter a little bit more, just to see how it fell out of my hand and it still feels good.  I haven't used it in a game since, I'd say, April.  It's definitely something I'll keep my options open to.  Especially now, getting the opportunity to go play winter ball and continuing to work on stuff and develop, I think it's a good time to do it.  But, as far as game ready stuff right now, it's just the four-seam fastball, the change up and the breaking ball.

-The breaker, is that a curve ball, slider or a combination of the two?

It's kind of a combo, I'd say.  It's kind of pretty much in the middle of both.

-From the way you referenced it, that seemed to be what it implies.  I'm sitting here, I've got your stat line from this season in front of me.  40 games, 60 innings, 80 K's.  Nice even numbers there.  Batting average against is under .200. Is there any part of your game that you take the most pride in?

I think it kind of started in Lakewood with my strike out rate.  Being where it was and experiencing the success that I had there.  I would say when I'm at my best I'm missing barrels, missing bats in general, getting swings-and-misses and strike outs.   That would definitely be the part of my game that I take the most pride in.  It's always good to not give up hits, but when you have the ability to go out there and make guys miss the ball, you can give up-- on a rough day-- you can give up one or two hits in an inning and still make your way out of it without giving up any runs and get through an inning, help the team and be closer to a win.  So that's something that I put a lot of emphasis on.  

I know that in the beginning of the year, I was getting a ton of strike outs and I was really happy with the rate that I was striking guys out at, but what was hurting me was walks.  Toward the middle and the end of the year, I got things under control with that but the strike outs weren't there at the rate that I want to see them, personally.  Definitely something I can work on out in Arizona for these six weeks.

-Zach, I know you've got New Jersey roots.  Did you grow up as a Phillies fan?

Yes.  Grew up as a Phillies fan my whole life.  I drive pretty close to an hour every day in the off-season over to Pennsylvania to work out and right on the right as I pass all the bridges you can see center city Philadelphia and it's just a really cool feeling being in this minor league system and having the possibility to maybe make it up there one day and be really close to home where all my family and friends can come watch a game whenever they feel like it.  I try not to think about it too much, but it's an exciting thought.

-Probably 99 percent of players I talk to come from families that didn't have interest in the Phillies before they played for them.  Is it more fun and easier for you to have a family that is interested in baseball and not have to convert them to a whole new team?

I definitely think so, yeah.  I think it's great for my family and friends to get behind it and they don't have to go out and purchase any merchandise.  They've already been stocked up with Philly sports teams' gear their whole lives.  So I'm excited that I'm kind of playing for my hometown team here.

-What type of memories to you have from childhood of the Phillies?  Because 10 and 11 years ago, they're in the World Series, but you're a pre-teen then, probably.  What are some of your early memories of growing up as a Phils fan?

Well, I've got a ton.  I went to a game and saw Roy Halladay pitch live.  I remember finishing, maybe I was 12 or 13 and finished a baseball travel game in the summer and then going out with my grandparents after and they had the Phillies game on and Halladay was pitching and I watched his perfect game in Florida.  I watched it from start to finish, so that was a good memory.  My favorite pitcher growing up, the whole time, was Cole Hamels.  I got to go to a couple of his charity camps that he had around the Philadelphia area and meet him.  And then it's funny I actually met him at his camps as a young kid and then in the off-season at my gym, he comes through, every now and again I can see him now as a pro and I got to say hi to him and talk with him a little bit.  So, it's a pretty cool perspective for me to meet my childhood hero like that and talk with him almost as equals in the same profession.  And then another great one for me was in high school I went to a game and saw Cliff Lee strike out 16 in a pretty good game he had once.  So, those are some of my highlights.

-Excellent. You mentioned the family not needing to buy new hats and merchandise and stuff once you sign with the Phillies.  How much stuff do YOU have from your youth and early Phils fandom and how much have you added to your family's collection of stuff?

I definitely have a good amount left over from childhood.  We have a ton of Ryan Howard jerseys around the house and we have a hat signed by Jamie Moyer. I got a ball signed by Cole Hamels and Stars and Stripes hats from back in the day. But I have probably doubled or tripled the amount of gear since getting drafted.  Just tons of t-shirts and hats, baseball cards and things like that.  There's a ton laying around here now.  My mom likes to save them all and they all have a place here.  

-I know you work with the Ballengee Group.  I don't normally talk to guys about their agencies and things like that, but what can you share about how they take care of you and what they handle for you?

Well, they are a great agency.  I've had a pretty long lasting relationship with my agent Jeff Randazzo since I was in high school.  They take great care of me.  Whenever I need anything, you know, on the field, equipment wise, during the season, they hook me up.  It's a really first class group of guys there.  A lot of the guys I work out with during the off-season are in the agency and it helps to provide a good environment of guys to work out with and to get better working out with guys that are professional baseball players and being in some type of competitive atmosphere throughout the off-season.  I think it helps a lot, so I can't say enough good things about them.  I love everything they've done for me and I'm thankful for everything they've helped me with. 



You can follow Zach on Twitter by clicking here.

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