DUNEDIN, Fla. – Zak Wasilewski appreciates where he’s been but is now looking forward to bigger things.
The 20-year-old left-handed pitcher, drafted in the 14th round by the Toronto Blue Jays, has had a lot of support behind him as he tries to take the steps necessary to make it to the big leagues.
Last year, the native of Tazewell, Virginia got the opportunity to play right at home, pitching in the rookie Appalachian League for the Bluefield Blue Jays.
“It was a great experience,” Wasilewski said. “I was right there with my family. All my friends and family got to see me pitch. I don’t think I could beat being that close to home.”
Even before he was playing less than a half hour down the road from home, the southpaw’s parents have always been a part of his baseball life, and his journey to the big leagues.
“When I was like five or six I would always throw with my dad out in the driveway,” he said. “I always liked it, it was a good game and I was good at it.”
The Wasilewski patriarchs even played a role in what baseball team he followed growing up.
“I was always a big Yankees fan,” he said. “My dad and my grandpa still love the Yankees.”
The influence of his hometown upbringing becomes apparent if you ask Wasilewski what baseball players he looked up to while growing up.
“Billy Wagner went to my high school so he was someone I would look up to,” he said. “Also, Ricky Henderson. I always liked the way he played. He came to the ballpark and wanted to play hard and do his thing.”
The lefty also admits that he would not be the pitcher that he is today without the coaches who have helped develop his pitching mechanics.
“I had a lot of help from coaches,” he said. “I was kind of rough at the very beginning, but now I’m starting simplify my mechanics. Getting more feel on my pitches.”
Wasilewski has four pitches in his arsenal – a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a changeup, and a curveball – but knows his own stuff enough to admit what his go-to pitch is.
“It’s probably my two-seamer,” he said. “I try and get them out on their front foot and get some ground balls.”
With 47 strikeouts over 51 1/3 innings during his time in the Appalachian League, Wasilewski focuses more on pitching to contact.
“I’m more of a ground-ball pitcher, and if I have my curveball and it’s working for me it’s a pretty effective pitch.”
With the support from his family and lessons learned from past coaches, Wasilewski is looking forward to this upcoming year and the road further ahead.
Coming into spring training he is working on commanding the ball, staying healthy, and getting a little better each day. And even though he has never been to Toronto, Wasilewski has his passport is ready if he ever gets the call.