Zac Veen has had a busy summer, and it’s not quite over yet.
The 20-year-old has been tearing it up, leading the Spokane Indians and the Northwest League in stolen bases (43) and RBIs (55), demonstrating his unique blend of power and speed, while providing a strong arm and good instincts in right field.
The Colorado Rockies first round pick – No. 9 overall – in the 2020 MLB draft is hitting .279/.379/.461 with 11 homers and 17 doubles in 83 games with the Indians this season.
And he’s getting better as the season goes along. After picking up two hits in each of the past two games against Tri-City – both wins – Veen is hitting .324/.395/471 with two homers, 11 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 16 games in July.
The prodigious numbers, along with his developing power to all fields, has Veen perched among the top prospects in the game, appearing at No. 21 in MLB.com’s midseason prospects list.
“He’s such an interesting, exciting player and he’s a lot of fun to be around,” Indians manager Scott Little said. “He plays the game right. He’s a great person who… he’s just his own little piece, his own deal, his own cat, you know? But it’s beautiful. And he’s a lot of fun to be around.”
Veen was invited to the MLB Futures Game, showcasing some of the top prospects in the game, during the All-Star Game festivities at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles last week.
“It was very exciting, and it was a definitely an eye-opening experience,” Veen said. “Being able to play in the stadium that a lot of the greatest players ever have played in, that was the coolest part.”
Veen was overwhelmed by the sheer number of baseball personalities that participated in the festivities, but he had a couple of clear favorites of those he got to meet.
“Probably have to say it was cool to have a conversation with (former Cleveland and New York Yankees pitcher) CC Sabathia,” he said. “Yeah, that was a cool one for me, watching him growing up. Adam Jones was pretty cool to talk to you a little bit. I would say those two are probably the top ones for me.”
Veen started and played the whole game for the NL Futures team, which fell to the AL team 6-4. He went 2 for 3 with a run and two stolen bases.
“I was very happy that I was able to show off a little bit of how I like to play the game,” he said. “I’m glad that I got the opportunity to do so and then it all worked out.”
Scouts rate Veen’s speed as good but not elite. Through hard work and determination, he’s been able to refine the skills necessary to become an extremely impactful baserunner.
At Low-A Fresno last season he stole 36 bases and was caught 17 times – a 67.9% success rate. This season he has been caught just three times in 46 attempts – a 93.4% rate. One of the three times he was caught was on a pickoff throw.
“I work on the technique as much as possible, just trying to anticipate as much as I can,” he said. “I think having those two things, you know, can be a lot better than having top-tier speed, as they want to call it.”
Veen studies how the pitcher handles himself with runners on base, whether it’s him on the bases or a teammate.
“It’s all off the pitcher,” he said. “I guess I never really pay attention to who’s catching honestly.”
Veen said the new rules in the minors this season, limiting the number of pickoff moves per at-bat designed to increase stolen base attempts, hasn’t really impacted him much.
“I’d say the pickoff definitely helps, when you can get them to throw over twice, but I would say it hasn’t really made as much of a difference as a lot of people might think.”
There was a game on the road in Eugene before the break where Veen was on second base, and he was bouncing around off the base and he goaded the pitcher into a balk. It didn’t go as a stolen base but produced the same result – a free base.
“I’d say it just depends on the game and the situation, but I like to know that they’re paying attention to me out there,” Veen said. “If they’re not focused on the batter, it’s a good way to get in their head.”
In a home game against Vancouver last week, Veen tagged up from first on a medium-deep fly ball when he realized the centerfielder wasn’t paying attention. He scored when the next batter singled to “steal” another run.
“He’s a baseball player with great instincts on the bases,” Little said. “You’ve seen it all year. He runs like a deer. You can see when he gets on, he makes a lot of things happen.”
Asked to grade his season so far, Veen said that he’s a “work in progress,” but feels he’s doing everything he and the Rockies wanted to see from him this season.
“I would say an ‘A’. I feel like I’m building off of what I learned last year, and I think I definitely implemented it into my game. I’d say I learned even more from this first half than I did all last year, so I’ve got nothing but positive things to take away from it.”
Casual fans might not think there’s much of a difference between Low-A and High-A, but Veen has noticed.
“I’d say in this league, you definitely get a lot more college (pitchers) coming into it. But you definitely start to notice the level of players gets better and better.”
Veen had the reputation as a “pull” hitter out of high school, and one thing the Rockies wanted to see was him driving the ball to all fields, which has been a point of emphasis for him.
“I think when I’m hitting balls out to left center, left field, I know I’m ‘right,’ ” he said. “I’d like to think I’m a complete hitter, so I definitely utilize that in my game.”
Off the field, Veen’s pursuits are pretty typical for a college-aged person. He likes to play video games, watch movies and hang out with his family. He’s a big golfer – though he admits he hasn’t had a chance to play this summer in the Spokane area.
“I brought the clubs and everything with me – I was planning on it,” he said. “But I guess when I get that off day, I like to definitely give my body that break.”
Veen said his goals for the rest of the season are simple.
“Do the best I can and be prepared to play every day and go out there and play to win.”
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