Washington Nationals Prospect Spotlight: Zack Brzycky
In this week's installment of the Nationals prospect spotlight, we highlight Zach Brzycky, a 23-year old relief pitcher who is rising through the minor leagues quickly. Some Washington fans may be unfamiliar with the right-handed flamethrower, as he has flown under the radar since being signed by the Nationals in 2020 as an undrafted free-agent for $20,000. Brzycky is currently the Nationals 25th ranked prospect, according to mlb.com.
Zach got arguably the shortest hand of the 2020 season. His college season at Virginia Tech was shortened and the MLB Draft was cut to five rounds, leading to him being undrafted, despite being mlb.com's 180th ranked prospect heading into the draft. However, the former Hokie has blossomed in the Nationals minor league system, possibly forming himself into a future bullpen piece.
Brzycky played three college seasons for coach John Szefc and the Virginia Tech Hokies in Blacksburg, Virginia, and surprisingly did not have an illustrious career. Zach was seen as more of a project in college because he possessed a fastball in the mid to upper 90s complimented with a sharp mid-80s curveball and firm changeup. Command was Zach's problem in college and still gives him problems to this day. Zach is not a small guy, standing at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. He was projected to be a key piece to the Hokies pitching plans in 2020, but COVID canceled winter and spring sports for all colleges.
Amassing just 34 innings in his college career, Brzycky came out of school very inexperienced but skilled at different aspects of pitching. Strikeouts come in bunches for Brzycky. In those 34 innings as a Hokie he struck out 54 batters. That trend has followed him to the pros. Last season, Zach averaged 13.9 SO/9, an elite number out of the bullpen. The right-hander has yet to have a minor league season under 12.0 SO/9. He is also improving in about every statistical category to start his professional career.
In 2021, Zach's first season as a professional saw both ends of the spectrum. He compiled a 5.20 ERA with 86 strikeouts and surrendered 8 home runs. Those numbers led to averages of 12.4 SO/9 and 1.2 HR/9. Walks were also a problem for Zach in 2021, averaging 3.6 BB/9. He spent the entire season in High A Wilmington, which I believe was beneficial, placing him with stronger competition in his first season compared to pitching in the Florida complex league. His age also played a factor into that decision, being 21-years old during his first professional season, but it was 2022 that was the season that broke Brzycky into the Nationals top-30 prospect list, debuting as the 25th best in the organization.
Zach pitched at three different levels for the organization in 2022, High A Wilmington, AA Harrisburg and AAA Rochester. Between the three teams, he compiled an ERA of 1.76 in 61.1 innings pitched, 95 strikeouts and just five home runs allowed. Brzycky averaged 13.9 SO/9 in 2022, an elite number out of the bullpen. Although his BB/9 went up slightly to 4.3, the dominance in other categories helped limit the damage from free bases. Another impressive stat improvement from year-to-year is Brzycky's H/9 averages. In 2021 he surrendered 7.9 H/9, a tad high for a relief pitcher, and improved that number to 4.8 in 2022. Seeing consistent improvement from just about every category from Zach should give Nats fans hope about minor league player development, given the plethora of highly-touted prospects Washington holds.
Developmental Expectations and Timeline
I personally think Brzycky could be an important piece to the Nationals bullpen for years to come, and others in the organization are starting to agree with me. Why? Because Zach was brought up to AAA Rochester to end the season. He pitched just 1.2 innings in two appearances, but the purpose was to get him acclimated to the next level. He should begin the 2023 season in AAA Rochester, and if he continues his dominance at that level, I would anticipate a debut in D.C. next season. He's a guy that is not going to rise to the top of our top-30 prospect list, but could be one of the more important pieces to the future of the Nationals.
I don't normally like comparisons for prospects but I thought of a great one for Zach Brzycky: former Nats' pitcher Drew Storen. Nationals fans should remember him quite well. He was a fan favorite and part of some of the most important teams in Nationals history. Storen was able to do everything for the Nationals, he was the closer at times, setup man or middle reliever. Drew picked up 99 career saves with averages of 8.5 SO/9 and 2.7 BB/9 during his 8 year tenure in the majors, while managing a 3.45 ERA. I believe this a great comparison for Brzycky because he's pitching style is similar to Storen's and is versatile out of the bullpen. I personally think Zach has more strikeout potential than Drew simply because he has a higher octane fastball.
I certainly do not expect Brzycky to have the career that Storen had, but I do believe Zach will have a solid major league career. His quick rise through the Nationals' minor league system is a pleasant surprise for the front office, who have missed on a few pitching prospects the past few years. The Nats won't rush Brzycky to the big leagues, but if he continues his dominance like last season, he will force Mike Rizzo to make a roster spot in D.C. for him. Brzycky is a dark-horse prospect to be excited about, Nats fans.