The Los Angeles Dodgers’ ninth-round 2012 draft pick from Jackson, Mississippi has been tantalizing fans with some raw stuff despite some not-so-desirable numbers on the board. Standing at 6-foot-4, Zachary Bird is still 19 years old and is sneaking into some Dodgers’ top prospect lists — he’s listed as the club’s 13th best consensus prospect at Beyond the Box Score.
I had a chance to see Bird throw when I was at the Great Lakes Loons’ home ballpark, the beautiful Dow Diamond in Midland, Michigan on Wednesday. He was facing a very tough Cedar Rapids Kernels lineup and while the results weren’t there, he was really let down by his defense and his overall numbers don’t reflect the quality of the pitcher that Zach Bird can be if he reaches his potential.
Let’s get those numbers out of the way. In the game I saw, Bird threw three and a third innings, giving up five hits, seven runs (six were earned), two walks and he struck out two batters. Not good at all but there were definitely some plays not made and at least one hit that should have been scored an error.
What did I like about Bird? He has four pitches that he was able to throw for strikes at times (although some pitches were more consistent than others) with big league calibre velocity. Working off a fastball that had some sink and sat at 91-92 mph (touching 94 mph), he was able to get multiple swings and misses with his changeup that really dropped as it approached the plate.
In my opinion, his change was his most-developed offspeed offering, coming in between 83 and 85 mph. He threw an inconsistent 12-6 curveball in the low-70s and a better slider in the 83-85 mph range that had some nice, late bite to it. That said, the fastball wasn’t spotted well for most of the outing and he lost a little bit of velocity, sitting at 90 mph or so in his fourth inning.
So what went wrong? I talked to pitching coach Bill Simas after the game and he said that Bird started out well but couldn’t overcome the defensive miscues and lost the feel for some of his pitches.
I asked Simas about why Bird stopped throwing his changeup — his most effective pitch — after the first couple of innings. Simas said that they wanted to get the curveball over “for the difference of speed [with] the breaking ball” against a good fastball/slider hitting team like the Cedar Rapids Kernels and that switch to the curveball got Bird out of sync. When Bird wasn’t locating his fastball well, he couldn’t use the changeup as much to play off of it.
According to Simas, Bird has been working on getting “a feel for the release point on every pitch so he knows where his hand has to be at release of the ball.” This indicates that there could probably be a few more difficult starts until he really gets the feel for all of his pitches.
Stay tuned for more reports of my trip to the Midwest League!