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Interview: Zach Peek Excited & Humbled After Trade to O’s

Zach Peek
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It’s 2012 in Frederick Maryland and I just traded in my non-camera phone for one that takes pictures and videos so I can film Orioles pitching prospect Dylan Bundy at his Keys debut.

The first pictures in my current phone are from that start so many years ago, but now there are new ones. That rebuild of about a decade ago didn’t last so there’s a new movement going forward. Looking full circle, Bundy turned into a fine pitcher but his value to this current recycle is in trade.

In December 2019, the Orioles traded him away and received four exciting arms back from the Angels. Kyle Brnovich, Isaac Mattson, Kyle Bradish and Zach Peek represented a substantial return.

I’ve long held the stance that this was a very good trade for both clubs as the Angels got a proven innings-eater to keep them in games at the major league level but the Orioles got talent and a jolt of improvement in their constant pitching competition happening throughout the minors. A true win-win.

But what exactly did the O’s receive in that four-man return? In 2019 at minor league camp I had a chance to see Bradish’s big 12-to-6 curve and Mattson’s two pitch mix out of the pen. I got to meet Brnovich and his family and see the young strikeout artist carve up some organizational hitters too. But I only saw one day of Zach Peek which included some windups and some light fielding practice. Then Covid, the accompanying quarantine and no more action at the O’s complex.

Among dozens of guys I was eager to get eyes on, Peek would have to wait.

I have remained curious about Peek and what he brings to the table. Despite not having much on field action in his two-year career, there’s some deserved hype around the Winthrop product and his right arm. Fortunately I had a chance to chat with Zach and get some answers to a few questions I had been thinking about. What came across to me is that he enjoys competition but is driven more by winning and striving to do so. A high effort fighter with a rocket arm and good stuff seems a very good start for a pitching prospect. Here’s my discussion with a young man who is highly ready to get up on a mound and get his pro development on track and pointed towards Camden Yards.

Starting things off, I estimated he was pretty amped to get back to baseball and a familiar routine.

“You’re exactly right man,” he said. “I cannot wait to get off the mound and face live bats! Being someone who loves competition it’s been hard to get a fix for quite some time. It’s been a tough time for me to be away from the game and I just watch it.”

I can only imagine a guy like Peek who has yet to get substantial headway in his profession being frustrated by the extended and unplanned pause but he seemed OK knowing he’s getting back to work and has been waiting patiently. Zach has learned to value rest but aches for the “hotel, field, hotel, field, hotel” regimen that makes he and his teammates forget which day it is rather quickly.

Getting back to minor league camp in late March means being back on a schedule that’s no longer his own, but also playing baseball against talented teammates and opponents. According to Peek, what he’s looking forward to the most is having “somewhere to go out and get some competition.”

Zach seems like a typical youngster: playing video games to get some juices flowing, and heading outside to rest and relax.

“I like video games that are competitive and take genuine skill,” he tells me. “It’s a way to compete even when you’re not on the field…..I need that.”

He would have attended lots of concerts in the last year to fill in the time vacated by no baseball but missed out on that too.

As far as his craft off the field, he follows the game closely.

“I watch a lot of baseball, especially pitchers.”

Interestingly, Zach follows European Soccer leagues so he’s not a baseball only sports fan.

Not every baseball player knows what it’s like to be part of a trade, but Zach already does being part of that four-for-one swap with Anaheim.

“I was drafted and then traded so I got used to one organization and had to switch it up so that’s an interesting aspect of my career. The trade was the last thing on my mind in November after instructs with the team (Angels). What you don’t understand unless you’ve been traded, is just how quick it is. It was tough leaving a lot of the new friends I had met, but I’ve fit right in over in Baltimore no problem.”

Getting dealt can be viewed from many angles. It seems apparent that Zach looks at his move from the west coast as a positive as far as opportunity is concerned. When I asked him about that unique feeling of being dealt for a quality starter like Dylan Bundy, he had an uplifting perspective.

“It’s definitely exciting, almost humbling,” Peek explained. “You just know the O’s wanted me. Obviously it’s makes me excited to know that my team gave up a big arm for us four. They didn’t trade for this group by accident, there was some thought behind it and if they were giving up Bundy they wanted each of us.”

Also, Zach let me know another Angel teammate that he became close to at his previous stop, saying that Garrett Stallings, who came over in the Jose Iglesias trade, “was one of my better friends over there, he can do big things and that’s my guy.”

I added in Jahmai Jones, cited his infield athleticism and we tried without success to figure out why the O’s front office was so keyed in on the Angels.

With a young and talent filled organization like the Orioles there’s competition for so many spots. At the end of the day, stuff is what separates pitching talent and Zach has the kind of movement that scouts notice.

I’ve seen each pitchers from the Bundy trade throw but not Zach. Curious, I asked what’s in his arsenal and what/when he likes to use it.

“I pitch quite a bit off of my fastball. I love to establish that first and allow the rest of the arsenal to play off of the fastball.”

Without getting into details, some situations call for a 12-to-6 curve and some need something more horizontal-moving, so Zach has worked on crafting a slider, and a slurve. Out of nowhere, Zach decided to add in some music to my ears as I grew up a huge Mike Mussina fan.

“I also throw a circle change. It’s got good arm side tail. The changeup attacks hitters on both sides of the plate. I’ve been working on its depth leading up to camp, and my curveball has over 3000 RPM.”

It looks like as far as stuff Peek represents a talented athlete for the player development staff to work with as his game grows. This is the kind of exciting progress that’s happening throughout the system at multiple levels.

I’m getting star-crossed visions of future pitching rotations and lineups at this point so I wanted to get his perspective on some of the talent that he’s seen in his short time as an O.

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“The Orioles are getting so stacked,” Zach said. “It’s cool to be wanted by an organization with the depth they have. From my observation and through playing catch with different guys, we have a LOT of young arms coming up. Kyle Bradish is going to be big; someone to watch this year, and it helps that he’s my guy over there. I really love what DL and Grayson are gonna do, and it’s gonna be fun to watch. Dan Hammer/Drew Rom should be huge this year too!”

It’s great to bring in a talented pitcher (or four) who’s eager about the organizational talent of which he is a part. Nothing says TEAM like supporting your guys. The O’s young and quickly-forming nucleus is supportive and highly competitive at the same time. He’ll fit right in.

It was tough to get a scouting report or see video on Zach and the other players acquired in that deal due to the Angels being one of a handful of teams that basically rests their college draftees in the first year of their career. He didn’t seem to mind, instead seeing the benefits of this introduction to the pro baseball lifestyle and routine. Giving a detailed answer highlights that some organizations do things differently.

” [In Anaheim] guys coming in off of college seasons with 100+ innings, high school guys that will need special attention, and just basically anyone who they think will have an impact early. I was in a group of 12 players, with myself Garrett Stallings and Kyle Brnovich were all a part. Instead of sending you to rookie ball, we stayed at the spring training complex for 12 weeks, doing an extensive six-day strength and conditioning routine, as well as a throwing program. It’s done this way to allow us to progress as fast as possible, like coming out of spring training in low-A fast. It’s modeled after Griffin Canning who had an incredibly fast path to the big leagues, and it was interesting to be a part of. It was cool as a young player being told I had a shot to fly through. I can understand both ways that organizations to do it, but I think the on-boarding was more beneficial for me at the time than more innings on my arm.”

But now Peek is property of the Baltimore Orioles and despite his relative newness with the staff, he knows the rebuild is in full swing and he’s all in to play a role in future success.

“To be part of a situation with so much talent around you and people to learn from, everybody brings something to the table. Pitch crafting, grips, counts it’s all going to make a huge difference.”

Zoom has made things unconventional but he’s open to learning that way and in fact had his intro and Spring camp protocol review the night we spoke finishing out this interview. Communicating and interacting this way is just another example of the Orioles being ahead of the curve comparatively among other clubs.

Women in the field, executive offices and the training rooms is another one. We talked about a few rising throughout the ranks and Zach said that strength trainer Liz Pardo was an example who stood out to him.

“Pardo brings A LOT of energy to the weight room and is cool to be around. She does different, innovative stuff and knows how to get us going.”

Liz is one of the many resources available to him and the Orioles crop of future stars as they make their way up. It’s thrilling for him to have them helping his education in the sport he loves. Zach’s climb will take significant steps forward this year and the competitor in him came out when I asked him what he’s out to accomplish in 2021.

“I’m going to come out and pitch my ass off. Bring it every single day no matter what happens. We’ve missed so much baseball, it’ll be great to be out there regardless. I plan to beat as many hitters as I can and bring my best stuff every day I can.”

I have to say, it’s very difficult not to grin when you hear that on the other end of the phone. Great to know that with a developing stuff package, Zach can mix in plenty of desire and fight up on the mound.

“What I’m trying to establish the most is any-pitch-any-count. I don’t like to be crafty and drop stuff in the zone. If I can get the fastball by you, I’m throwing heat.”

Realizing his intrinsic pitcher-ness, I crossed off the question about interest in playing other positions. Zach went on to describe the difference between his simulated innings in the offseason and game situations.

“You can throw lives (BPs) and indoors, but it doesn’t really come out until you’re on that mound. The competitor shines through and that’s where you see guys hitting 100.”

Discussing his education in baseball, it’s apparent Zach has lots of pride in being part of a team and mentioned his Alma mater Winthrop more than once. He even recalled a lesson from his coach there, Tom Riginos, about his best ability being availability.

“I hated it back then but it didn’t take long to learn about health being foundational for my success.”

Zach is a proud alumnus and his brother Brady is a member of the school’s ESports team where he’s known as The Hitman according to the school’s website. Excelling in the Rocket League, trying to keep up with Brady is something Zach has trouble with.

There are a lot of names throughout the Orioles system and so many of them represent stories that fans would support and follow if they knew them all.

I’m going to find as many as I can and share them. The internet helps and there are plenty of stats but they don’t tell the whole story. In Zach’s case there’s so little to go on professionally due to his on-boarding in Anaheim and then Covid. Talking to him, he’s as eager to get back as every other player I’ve talked to since the pandemic started. It’s great to hear.

The O’s will have no shortage of motivated and ready players and staff to get back to work.

Here’s hoping that Zach has a great and healthy 2021 and we hear plenty from him in the future.

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