It has not been an easy road thus far for Dodger right-handed pitching prospect Zach Willeman. He had to wait quite a while to get into his first professional game. This road has tested his patience. Willeman had Tommy John surgery performed just before the June 2017 draft. From that point on, he had to play the waiting game.
“…it just felt so good to get back on the mound and not face one of ( Dodgers ) our hitters.” ~ Zach Willeman
Zach Willeman had a fantastic start to the 2018 season, although not until July. He split time between the Arizona Rookie League Dodgers and the Great Lakes Loons in Single-A. In his much anticipated professional debut, on July 26th, Willeman struck out the side in impressive fashion. It was a hot night in Glendale Arizona when the Dodgers 19th round draft of the year previous took to the mound at Camelback Ranch. There was little more than scouts and Dodger personnel in attendance to witness the heat brought by Willeman. He mowed down the opposing batters of the rookie league with relative ease, both on that night, and in his brief stay before moving to Great Lakes. The right-handed hurler enjoyed an extremely low earned run average, below one and a half runs allowed per nine innings. ( 1.42 ) His strikeout to walk ratio was a stellar 3 to 1 ( 24k’s/ 8 BB’s ) for the season. Willeman was also a part of the Loons late-season run to the Midwest League playoffs. The Kent State product also reached a milestone of sorts for any pitcher. He was clocked at 100 MPH in 2018.
A Conversation with Zach
I asked Zach Willeman about the pro debut last July and if he had to calm himself down for that long-awaited appearance, “I didn’t get to compete for about a whole year, there was a lot of adrenaline built up” Again, Willeman struck out the side in that outing. The batters were completely overmatched. Willeman continued, “it just felt so good to get back on the mound and not face one of our ( Dodgers ) hitters.” It can be a long, mentally taxing road back while playing games in Arizona with other intrasquad players in Extended Spring Training.
The best way a player can make it through this stretch of rehabilitation is to lean on the training and developmental staff as much as possible. Two gentlemen who deserve credit for their skilled work and guidance in many Dodger player’s recoveries are Kevin Orloski and Brian Stoneberg. Kevin Orloski, the Minor League Medical Coordinator, was instrumental in helping Willeman in his journey back to the mound. “A year of rehab down in Arizona, the training staff, the performance staff, everyone else down there just did an incredible job getting me back in shape and getting my arm very healthy.” Willeman also credits Brian Stoneberg, the Minor League Performance Coordinator, for the assistance in his process on the strength and agility aspects. They are vital to the Willeman recovery and their roles in the organization are monumental.
Zach Willeman, his solid mechanics, and all his capabilities will make him an MLB pitcher someday. For now, it will be a further test for the young prospect as he navigates his way through the Dodgers farm system. Look for him to possibly start in Great Lakes, with the possiblity of a promotion to Rancho at High-A during the 2019 campaign. If Willeman is extremely successful with the Quakes, there is a slight chance he could end the season in Double-A Tulsa. Development and health are the only real goals for this season. No reason to rush this talented pitcher. 2019 will be an exciting year for Willeman, we will all be watching with great anticipation!