It’s not very often you hear about a youngster in the Dodgers system who straightaway has the talent to succeed in the back-end of a minor league bullpen. More times than not, the Los Angeles management crew breeds most of its young arms as starters, then eventually converts them to relievers when a suitable door opens. However, there is one certain prospect in the organization, righty reliever Zach Pop, who may have the natural talent to climb the organizational ladder through the relief corps.
Last spring, we talked about Shea Spitzbarth a bit, and Pop is similar in the sense that he wasn’t one of those high profile draft choices who quickly became a household name as a starting pitcher. Spitzbarth is one of those select few examples who began his ascension as a reliever, and has already impressed pundits familiar with the organization, having already climbed to the Double-A level in rapid fashion.
Pop doesn’t yet have much of a minor league track record to speak of, as he was just chosen in the seventh round of the 2017 MLB draft out of the University of Kentucky. The native of Ontario was considered the best high school pitching prospect in all of Canada after his 2013 campaign at Notre Dame Secondary School, and was subsequently selected by the Blue Jays in the 23rd round of the draft. Pop passed on Toronto’s offer, and instead elected to attend Kentucky to polish his game.
Before heading off to Lexington, Pop helped Canada to a bronze medal at the 2013 Under-18 Pan American Championships in La Paz, Mexico. He was also one of the featured arms in the Cape Cod League in 2016 for the Wareham Gateman, when he also saw a bit of action at first base.
After last year’s draft, Los Angeles ushered Pop in to join the AZL Dodgers, where he made five relief appearances and surrendered no runs against only two hits while striking out five batters in five full innings of work. He features a four-seam heater that usually sits in the 94-97 MPH range, but was clocked as high as 99 last year. The 6-foot-4 Pop also utilizes a hard slider as his put-away pitch, and continues to develop a changeup as a secondary offering. His ceiling is high according to MLB Pipeline, which said “if a pro team can polish him up, he has the pure stuff to turn into a big league closer.”
Looking ahead to the 2018 season, the 21-year-old right-hander is likely to begin his campaign at short-season Ogden, but if he is impressive enough in the early goings, could conceivably see time at Low-A Great Lakes before year’s end.