The MLB draft is unlike any other in sports.
Despite the rounds being lowered down to 20, the amount of talent in the draft is incomparable to other professional sports. With that said, finding diamonds later in the draft is always going to be valuable and drafting well late in the draft will keep clubs competitive for a long time. The Houston Astros did that in 2022, drafting a steal in Zach Dezenzo.
Dezenzo attended Ohio State and had a standout junior season, hitting .309 with nine home runs and 31 RBI in 42 games. Unfortunately — well maybe fortunately for the Astros now — he wound up going undrafted in 2021.
“After that junior year, professional ball was definitely in the picture for me. Actually, believe it or not, I heard the most from the Astros that year,” Dezenzo said. “Come draft time, it just didn’t quite play out the way I wanted it to, and I knew having two more years of eligibility I would take my chances and go back for that fourth year at Ohio State. … (It) ended up working out really well for me.”
Following his junior season, Dezenzo played in the inaugural season of the MLB Draft League, which is a summer league for college guys to get more reps and game action in their offseason. Dezenzo dominated, hitting .339 with six home runs in 14 games and posting some impressive exit velocities that really put him on scouts’ radars.
“That was the inaugural year for that draft League in 2021 and things were pretty new, but I actually really really enjoyed it. I was a two-time Draft League guy, I played in 2021 and 2022 both,” Dezenzo said. “In 2021, I was in Frederick, over in Maryland, really good experience.
“I only played for a couple of weeks, 14 or 15 games, leading up to the draft there just to kind of stay fresh and see what the league was about and compete. Overall, I had a really good experience, I feel like they really prepared me for kind of what pro ball was like this with the schedule being six games.”
Dezenzo went back to school for his senior year and had a monster season hitting 19 homers, driving in 56 runs and posting a 1.114 OPS in 51 games for the Buckeyes. Despite his monster season and his performance in the Draft League, Dezenzo slipped down to the 12th round, where the Astros were able to snag him.
A lot of times when the Astros get prospects in from the draft, they will tweak some things that they think can help the player perform better. For Dezenzo, they just let him go play.
“The first two weeks was kind of ramping up before I headed out to Fayetteville, really just to make sure that I was healthy and good to go, go compete and play,” Dezenzo said. “When I was in Fayetteville, they were pretty hands off with all the new guys and just kind of let us go play… Then we finished up the year, mid September, and go back down to West Palm for instructional League.”
From there, the Astros provided some feedback on Dezenzo’s swing to try and help him improve.
“For me, it was more so just quieting some things and making my swing and approaches a little bit more simpler and simplifying some things,” Dezenzo said. “I took that to the offseason with me this year, and it’s paying off for me this year.”
The adjustments are paying off in a big way, too. Dezenzo started the year in High-A Asheville and dominated the South Atlantic League. In 31 games, the 23 year old hit .407 with 11 doubles, four home runs, 20 runs batted in and six stolen bases. This earned him a promotion to the Texas League where his hot hitting continued. With Double-A Corpus Christi, Dezenzo has hit .309 with five doubles, one home run, seven RBI and seven stolen bases in 19 games. He has also been able to cut down on strikeouts, too.
“I think for me, this offseason, I was really really trying to simplify and that’s the word I keep bringing up,” Dezenzo said. “Because I think some of the best hitters have the most simple swings and simple approaches to hitting. Quieting that leg kick now a little bit (and) closing my stance up a little bit, too, has made that move shorter to the ball and a little bit less head movement as well. So I’m seeing pitches a little bit better at the same time.”
Dezenzo was quick to also give praise to the coaches in the Astros organization.
“So along with that, I think our coaching here in the Astros organization has been phenomenal. … Our hitting coaches Bryan Muniz and Bobby Bell have been great with me just in helping me solidify a plan… going up to the plate having a plan of what I’m looking for, what I’m most likely going to get, what I want to attack whenever I’m up to the plate,” Dezenzo said. “I think that’s helped me tremendously this year and that’s been a big way that I’ve grown as a hitter.”
One thing that jumped out on his stat sheet was the stolen bases. They are really a new thing for him though. In 165 games in college, Dezenzo only stole four bases. He already has 13 this season after stealing four last year in Fayetteville after the draft.
“This offseason, I was really trying to take care of my body and make sure that I was healthy and strong going into the year… working on some speed stuff, agility stuff, power and explosiveness,” Dezenzo said. “I think that’s definitely translated over and you’re seeing that pop up a little bit of stolen base category right now.
“I think picking out times that are good for me to try to take a base, learning how to be a better base stealer, certain counts, when I’m more likely to get an off-speed pitch… working with guys in spring training on getting some momentum lead stuff. Coach (Mike) Ramazzotti has been really big on that. That’s helped me tremendously and getting that momentum lead. It’s helped me a lot. So bigger body is a little bit harder for me to get going. … The more momentum I can get going to that next bag that helps me a lot.”
We have seen it over and over recently in the system, but versatility is big. It is a way to help prospects contribute all over and increase their chances of making a big-league roster. This year, Dezenzo has seen time at first base, second base and third base.
“I think the profile definitely fits best at a corner, probably third base,” Dezenzo said. “I do have plenty of at experience first base as well. … I think I was playing one game to every two games at first base last year at Fayetteville and had some time at first at Ohio State as well.”
“(I have) actually grown to really like playing second this year as well. I feel I have a lot of freedom over there and with the throw not being as long, it kind of gives me a little bit more confidence to just move and be athletic to make plays.”
Looking at his size, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and his power profile, the corner outfield spot would also be a position that he would seem to fit in.
“It actually popped up for a little bit in Asheville,” Dezenzo said. “The potential of me playing a corner in the outfield… never ended up working out to where I could get a start or two in the outfield, but there’s definitely been times where they’ve talked about it with me and had me get ready just in case type of thing.”
Rather in the corner outfield spots, the corner infield spots or second base, with his current offensive profile, he will fit at any of them. Although Dezenzo was a 12th-round pick, the Astros got a talent better than the 12th rounder and looks like they found a “diamond” in the rough later in the draft. Just 78 games into his minor-league career, Dezenzo is hitting well at every stop and is another stud prospect in the Astros’ system.