February 11th, 2018
Zack Short is a Shortstop in the Chicago Cubs organization who was drafted out of Sacred Heart. Over just two years, Zack has made it up to High-A by being a standout defender and raking at every level. Last year Zack slashed .250/.381/.419 with 13 home runs and a .800 OPS in 577 PA.
In high school, Zack played for the Taconic Rangers showcase team. Jonathan and I also played for that organization, and Zack played on the team a year above me. Since we played for the same organization, I have always followed Zack’s success and knew he would be a great interview and would have a lot to share with SOTG. Zack is extremely passionate and exemplifies a tremendous work ethic towards his craft. We are very excited to be able to share some of Zacks story and hope you all can learn something from it!
Matthew de Marte: You were not highly recruited out of high school, and went to Sacred Heart. How did you use that motivation to get drafted eventually?
ZS: Early in high school, I always pictured myself as this guy that would go to the ACC or SEC. In like 10th or 11th grade, I realized I was not very big, I did not hit for power. I was like alright, I will try and get my name in the door, and I was invited to the Area Code game tryouts after my Junior year of high school. I got a lot of interest, and that opened my eyes like I could really be good. After that, I did not get offers from many schools, but my parents, who I credit a lot of my success and attitude to. They told me it doesn’t matter where you go; it matters where you end up. That has been our motto our whole life. My siblings and I, we are not very big kids, but we are going to outwork you and do everything else to get an edge over you, and that is how it has always been.
MD: How did you train to get better as a player in college?
ZS: My freshman year, my hitting coach who is now at Boston College, Alex Trezza, introduced me to the idea of getting on plane. I was always taught knob to the ball, swing down, and I thought that was it. He told me this, and I started hitting the ball well to all fields, I never really hit for much power. Then my sophomore year my school got really into strength and conditioning, and it helped everybody. Coach Trezza left, but I started dissecting the swing, I was obsessed with learning more. Even in class living on youtube, and on peoples websites, trying to master video. I was huge on youtube and just tried to master what the greats did. I got Ted Williams’ The Science of Hitting, and it was not like I was mind blown, it was like this makes sense. It was not rocket science, just swing on a level or uphill plane, and the rest will take care of itself. Even to this day that is what I preach to myself, and anybody I talk hitting with.
MD: From Rookie ball in your rookie season of 2016 to high-A last season you have been able to run an incredible 17.5 % walk rate. What do you credit your outstanding plate discipline to?
ZS: I think from growing up, learning to be selective, but be aggressive. I could not do damage except for one specific pitch, and that molded how I am today. Sometimes I still can barely do that. If you get ahead 1-0, or 2-0, then you are in the better driver’s seat than the pitcher. If he paints the first pitch, then you still have two more strikes to work with. It is not even a quarter or third of the bat over with. That also gets me in trouble though, I sometimes am taking too many pitches and find myself down 0-2, or 1-2 pretty quickly, because I am waiting too long. That is what I am going to work on this year, striking out a little bit less, and maintain walking a good amount.
MD: At both Class A South Bend, and High A Myrtle Beach last year your ground ball rates ranked in the 97th percentile or higher. You had GB% at 30.2%, and 30.3% respectively. What do you credit your ability to be able to avoid ground balls much better than nearly all players at the levels you have played at?
ZS: I just think, as I said, I learned it as a freshman in college. I had a head start on some other guys, like some kids my age are just learning this now. Someone like my size, there are hundreds of other guys in pro ball who can hit singles, and run, and for me to stick out, I am going to have to hit for power and do something different from the other guys. That is my forte; I want to be able to hit for power and be able to run as well. If you hit some doubles, and a few home runs here or there they are going to keep you around.
MD: As a believer of the flyball revolution, another adopter Justin Turner was quoted saying “If I fly out four times, I had a great night, because I didn’t hit a ground ball.” Are you with him on that?
ZS: Yeah, for me it is a little different than him because I am half his size. If I roll one over, then I am a tick away from hitting a line drive. That is my thing, if I’m rolling over a line drive or a ground ball, then I would rather that than a chopper to the shortstop. Even in the cage, I am trying to hit the top of the cage. The top upper half of it, every swing, even on the tee. I believe the more you practice something, the easier it is going to become in a game.
MD: From 2016 to 2017 your ISO (isolated power) increased from .082 to .169. Do you think this is due to your increase in FB% or a change mentality at the plate or something else?
ZS: I have always had the same mentality at the plate since college, just hit the ball in the air over the infielders’ heads. I struggled over the winter, and in spring training just trying to do too much. Even in Eugene last year, I look back at it now and say I was such a lousy hitter. I was starting so late, and just wondering what am I doing, and it clicked last year in the middle of the season, if you start early and on time everything else comes together. If you are in rhythm, it is a vague thing to say, but if I am in rhythm with my hands and my legs, I am going to have a good chance of hitting the ball and squaring it up every time. That is my big thing, starting early and on time. That is what I tell a lot of people when they are struggling. I’m not trying to be a hitting coach to my friends or anything, but you learn from each other, and that is a big thing for me. I am a huge believer in starting on time.
MD: Did you make any swing changes last offseason? If so what were they?
ZS: I was really uphill coming into pro ball because I did not see the velocity that other guys saw. I flattened out a little bit. I am still all about hitting line drives over the infielders’ and outfielders’ heads. I have been working more from the ground up. I never really thought about it until our hitting coordinator told me about getting into your back hip and starting your swing from the inside of your big toe on your back foot. Using that to work from the ground up rather than your hands down.
MD: Is that your primary focus of your swing this offseason or are you focusing on anything else?
ZS: I really try to replicate that, while it is impossible to master, on every swing, on every pitch. I really struggled on middle-away pitches last year that were a little elevated. This year, every time I hit off a tee, the first 20 swings are just middle away a little above my belt, and I am trying to hit that in the right-center gap every time. That is what I tried to do this year. If you can do damage right-center, then that is where guys start to take off. If you can hit for power to right field, they have no choice but to move you up.
MD: Jonathan got the chance to play against you while you were at Sacred Heart, and he was at Richmond. At the time he described you to me as “the best defensive shortstop I have ever played against.” What do you think makes your glove special?
ZS: That is awesome to hear, I appreciate that. I love watching guys. Something about fielding and making a play. I hate to say this, but if you are American and an infielder, you have to stand out somehow. I played with a guy at school who was from the Dominican, and his hands were just out of this world. I was like I want to be better than him, I want his hands. I would just play wall ball by myself, looking at guys what they do, reading a ton of stuff. I have been blessed with good hands, and I don’t even know how to explain it. It just happens, sometimes, the more you look at things, the easier they become. That is what it has become now; I like working against guys who have good hands and watching them and what they do.
MD: Carson Cistulli of Fangraphs in their latest addition of Cubs top prospects labeled you as someone to keep an eye on. He wrote “Players who possess Short’s combination of contact and swing plane are rare at any level. Matt Carpenter, Daniel Murphy, and Justin Turner are the major-league comps.” Do you model your game after any of these players?
ZS: I love watching all of them. They all do something so unique. They took their careers into their own hands. Even Justin Turner was like screw it; I need to change something, I have to do it now. That was something like I did too, I would have never been looked at by a scout if I never hit for power my sophomore year of college. Again, like I said there are thousands of infielders out their who are fast and can hit for singles and have better hands than me. I had to stick out somehow, once I learned that and how to hit the ball in the air, and on plane, it just took off from there.
MD: You were drafted by an organization in the Cubs who have a tremendous resume of developing great Major League hitters. How has there player development staff helped in your development?
ZS: They have been great. They are open to anything. If you’re working before a game, you do your routine. They will help you, and they will adjust it if you want, if you don’t like it and you tell them, they will try and find something different. It is cool to see that for the most part that those guys are there to help. Obviously, they are there to help you, but they care about you and your career. You ask a guy to sit down with you and watch pitches the night before they will sit with you. They will text you the night before and say hey what time do you want to get to the field tonight, or today, and offer to watch video with you. It is cool to see everyone with the same goals, to see you get to the next level.
MD: The Cubs also have invested heavily in analytics. Does that trickle down to the Minor League levels, and if so what have you learned from analytics that you didn’t know before them?
ZS: Yeah, definitely. The other day (Zack is currently in Arizona with the player development staff) they wrote something on the board with Altuve, Judge, and Stanton, and all of these guys’ launch angles. They were all below 13, which is incredible to think about. These guys are hitting low line drives for home runs, or just low line drives for doubles. You think, Altuve is a foot shorter than these guys and he is doing this. So it’s not like you can’t do what these guys are doing. I think they try and teach us, exit velo is all there, and they are huge on Trackman which is excellent. They will show you if you are hammering balls, but they are going into the ground, they will say let’s try and get these up in the air more. I think that just helps everybody, and it is contagious. Once a guy hits a home run, you are not trying to hit a home run, but you want to hit it in the air rather than hit singles.
MD: You were a middle round draft pick that has surpassed expectations, and prove to be a prospect who should continue to move up the system. How do you expect to continue to improve your strong career so far in 2018?
ZS: I just try to stand out at the plate. Getting on base, being that top of the order guy that I want to be, and I think I can help. Being at the top of the order, seeing pitches, and then hitting for some power. The Cubs are big on OBP, and that has been a lot of my success, and why I have got moved up, just because I get on base. I was hitting like 7th or 8th in Myrtle Beach, and our manager moved me up to leadoff, and I didn’t go back. At the end of the year, he said to me, you surpassed what I thought you were going to be. Getting on base almost 40% of the time, it helps guys win. It helps you look good, and it helps the guys behind you look good. If you are playing well, then everyone else is playing well, and it puts everyone in a very good spot.
MD: You also are a stolen base threat, and have swiped 33 bags in 184 professional games. This adds another weapon to your already impressive list of tools. What does it mean to you to be able to help your team win in so many different ways?
ZS: It’s cool. You see all the stats that guys like you know about, that I don’t know. You see how much your runs scored help, how well you do in various stats. You don’t think about it from a selfish standpoint, I try and stay away from that. If you can help, if you are on a 5 or 10 game win streak, and you look back and see you are doing well during them. I got on base, hit some doubles, stole some bags, you realize I was a significant contributor during this run. The more tools you have, the more chances you have moving somewhere else. Whether that means on your team or someone else’s. You’re not just playing for your team, you’re playing for 29 other teams as well.