Tony Zych went to the Arizona Fall League hoping to make a good impression on his bosses in the Cubs organization. Other than a blip in his final outing of the annual five-week prospects league, Zych likely did just that. The 22-year-old St. Rita graduate and Monee native didn’t leave Arizona with great numbers when play concluded in mid-November — he was 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA, four strikeouts and two walks in 13 appearances — but he routinely cracked 95 mph on the radar gun.
“Tony Zych, now you are talking about a next-level talent,” said Matt Herges, his pitching coach with the Mesa Solar Sox and a member of the Dodgers organization. “His fastball is not something you see every day. He is one of those in-your-face guys with great mound presence. I love the way he goes about it. He just has that great mound presence.”
What Zych doesn’t yet have is consistency.
The 6-foot-3, 180-pound right-hander, drafted in the fourth round by the Cubs in 2011, jumped from Class A Daytona to Double-A Tennessee in 2012. At Daytona, he went 3-3 with six saves, 36 strikeouts, seven walks and a 3.19 ERA in 27 appearances covering 36⅔ innings, While the strikeouts remained impressive in Double-A — he had 28 in 24⅔ innings — 12 walks and a 4.38 ERA over those 20 appearances were less so.
“This has been great, competing against all these young guys and seeing how they go about their business,” Zych said. “Obviously, I think my velocity is a strong point and that I have the mentality of a power pitcher. A weakness is my consistency and I am here hoping to work on that.”
The fact he was in Arizona indicates the Cubs believe he’s been making progress.
“Tony pitched very well this past year, he improved his fastball and throwing downhill, which is going to be his game — he has a power arm,” Cubs farm director Brandon Hyde said. “We want to see him (in Arizona) facing the top competition on a daily basis and continue to make strides.”
Brian Harper, Zych’s manager with Daytona and hitting coach for the Solar Sox, has seen as much of Zych as anybody. He’s already seen strides.
“You know he had a little bit of a rocky start down in Daytona in this his first full year of pro ball, but he has learned how to make pitches,” Harper said. “I think he has the potential to be a back end reliever in the big leagues, whether it is the seventh, eighth or ninth inning.”
Things have evolved considerably since 2008, when Zych first was drafted by the Cubs. Selected in the 45th round, the pitcher/second baseman opted to go from St. Rita to the University of Louisville.
“I was just a young player and still a two-way player and not 100 percent locked in on what I was going to do,” Zych said. “So it made sense to go to Louisville, as there was a two-way option there.”
After morphing into one of the top closers in the Big East — Zych saved 12 games as a junior after bouncing between the bullpen and the rotation his first two years — the Cubs again drafted him, this time in the fourth round, with the 129th overall pick.
He pitched in four games after being drafted in 2011, then started a quick-rising 2012 that could see him invited to spring training with the parent club in 2013.
“Here is a guy that hasn’t been pitching that long professionally and he already is in the AFL,” Solar Sox manager Rodney Linares said. “He is showing people what he can do. The stuff is there; he has a plus fastball and his breaking pitches are coming along.”