Quick Bit: Zac Veen finds himself in the Futures Game on Saturday just two years after being drafted in the top 10 by the Rockies.
Life as a young minor-league ballplayer brings about new experiences on a daily basis.
And for Zac Veen, the timing of his entry into pro ball brought about more twists and turns than most newcomers have to deal with. Veen was selected by the Rockies with the No. 9 overall pick of the 2020 MLB Draft out of Spruce Creek High in Port Orange, Fla., but baseball — and the world — was pretty much shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic, and he didn’t play a single official game all summer. Welcome to pro ball, kid.
Still, nothing could have quite prepared him for the life experience that arrived on April 10, 2022, as he was playing his third game in Spokane, Wash., where the Rockies have their High-A franchise.
“I was running out to play right field when it happened,” Veen told Sporting News in a phone interview this week. “I thought it was some kind of rain at first, but it turned out to be snow, which was pretty cool.”
And that was the first time in his life Veen had seen snow. Asked to describe how much snow fell that day — first-pitch temperature was a chilly 39 degrees — Veen just laughed.
“It didn’t pile up, but honestly I have never seen it, so I have nothing to compare it to,” he said. “It stayed on the ground here and there, a little bit. Not too bad, though.”
Bud Bareither, Spokane’s director of public relations who’s been with the club for seven years and knows how to describe snow better than Veen, said it was just a dusting. He also sent along this photo from a game on May 8. Undaunted by the frozen precipitation, Veen went a combined 3-for-7 with two RBI, two walks and two stolen bases in those two snowy games.
There will be no snow falling on this Florida kid’s head on Saturday, when he’s in Los Angeles along with the other elite prospects in baseball for the Futures Game.
It’s a richly deserved honor for the 20-year-old Veen, who is ranked as the No. 23 overall prospect in baseball by MLB.com and is No. 32 in Baseball America’s midseason update. Veen produced a .301/.399/.501 slash line in Class A Fresno in 2021, his first season of pro ball, with 15 homers and 75 RBIs in 106 games.
MORE: SN’s 2023 MLB mock draft
This year in Spokane, he’s batting .285 with a .382 on-base percentage and .891 OPS, with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs in 78 contests. He had a slow start to the season but has been on fire lately. He has multiple hits in seven of his 11 games this July, and if you dip back a bit further, he’s hitting .361 with a 1.022 OPS and 17 RBIs in his past 17 games.
“Definitely like where I’m at right now, mentally and physically,” Veen said. “I’m liking where I’m at and trying to stay right there I guess it’s just the feel in my swing and the thought process I have in play right now.”
It’ll be hard to stand out among all the talented future superstars at the Futures Game, but the custom Nike cleats he’ll be wearing should turn a few heads. The right shoe is purple — the Rockies’ primary color, of course, with a pic of the mascot Dinger on the back. The left shoe is bright yellow, with the circle smiley face and the words “Positive Vibes” splashed across the shoe.
“They’re definitely my style,” Veen said. “I wanted one of them to be a little shout out to Denver And the other one I wanted to just be me and be a little bit more of a brighter, flashier type look just staying positive, that’s the goal.
“In life and especially in baseball, if you can stay positive in a negative situation and find the good in everything, good things are gonna come your way. Sometimes it can be hard to find the positives in certain spots, but that’s what I’m trying to do. As I’ve gotten older I’ve kind of realized what’s important and what’s not so important in life. It’s much easier to play the game and it’s much easier to be traveling all the time, being away from home, when you’re staying positive. I think every baseball player can relate to that.”
If Rockies fans are lucky, they’ll get to see him use those cleats to show his skills on the base paths. After swiping 36 bases in 106 games for Class A Fresno in 2021, Veen has 41 stolen bases in 78 games for High-A Spokane this season.
But here’s the thing: Veen has those 41 stolen bases in only 43 attempts.
Yeah. He’s been caught stealing just twice all season. And speed was not supposed to be one of the best aspects of Veen’s game. The pre-draft scouting reports all heaped praise on the star high school outfielder because of his smooth swing, raw power, projectable frame and beyond-his-years plate discipline and approach at the plate.
His speed, though? Not so much. From his pre-draft Baseball America scouting report: “He’s a fine runner now who could eventually become fringe-average or below.”
Fringe-average runners don’t steal 41 bases in 43 attempts, at any level.
So what’s the difference? It’s not like Veen suddenly went from Miguel Cabrera to Billy Hamilton as a pro ballplayer. But what might have been missed — and it’s understandable, considering the shortened period scouting services had to look at Veen, with Covid shutting down his senior season in high school and the standard draft showcase circuit — is his base-running acumen. Veen is a student of the game.
“Just having an idea on what the pitcher wants to throw the hitter and just trying to find a good time to run and mixing it up when you can,” Veen said. “There’s little cues that you see in the game if you’re really paying attention and it’s just taking advantage of those.”
His improvement on the bases really is impressive. He had the 36 stolen bases last year, but was also caught 17 times. That’s too many. But a 41-to-2 ratio? That’ll play.
Check out the jump he gets in this one.
“It’s definitely something I take a lot of pride in,” Veen said. “I think there’s more than one way to win the game and I think base-running is a huge part of that. If you can advance 90 feet, that turns a double from scoring you into a blooper scoring you.”
He paused, then rattled off a list of his favorite big-league base-runners, including Fernando Tatis, Jr., Julio Rodriguez and Ronald Acu?a
“If you can run,” he said. “I think you should definitely try to make an impact on the game.”
That’s certainly what he’s been doing so far for the Rockies. It just took a little while for Veen to have the chance to show his skills. Veen was picked by the Rockies in the MLB Draft on June 10, 2020, but there obviously were no minor-league games that summer. So for a long time, Veen’s last at-bat in an “official” competition was a double he hit in what turned out to be the last game of his high school career.
“I can remember playing the game and toward the middle of the game a bunch of people were starting to see all the tweets that lot of these games were getting canceled,” he said. “At that time I had seen that Major League Baseball had shut down, so going out on the field, I knew it was it was probably the last game I was gonna play in high school.”
Veen spent most of the summer back home in Florida, then went to an instructional league in the fall. He most certainly wasn’t just sitting around, though.
“I got to get in the weight room a little bit more and develop a little bit more physically. I think that definitely helped going into my first pro season,” he said. “If anything, it just made me more excited to get out there and just made the first time getting out there that much more special.”
Oh, and it’s not lost on him, by the way, the fact that his name is Zac Veen and if you swap the first letters of his first and last name, you get … Vac Zeen.
As in vaccine.
During the middle of the Covid pandemic. What are the odds?
“I’ve got a lot of that,” he said with a laugh. “During that time pretty much everybody on the team was calling me ‘vaccine.’ It was an ironic nickname, but I mean, I love it.”
And Rockies fans are going to love watching him in the Futures Game and the rest of his career. He is, by the way, sticking around Los Angeles with his family to watch the rest of the events, including the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game.
He’ll be wearing regular shoes, but might not be too many years before he gets to wear cleats again on All-Star week.
Originally found on Sporting News Read More