Shank named a top prospect by Perfect Game
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
Zach Shank was doubting himself.
The 2009 Warwick High School grad was struggling at the plate while playing with the Danbury Westerners in the New England College Baseball League (NECBL) and wondering if there was any end in sight.
That was June.
And those offensive woes would soon become a thing of the past.
Shank recovered from that slow start to hit .318 and earn the starting shortstop position in the NECBL All-Star game while playing with and against some of the top Division One, Two and Three players in the nation.
"It was just a blast going out having fun every day and I played well," said Shank, who helped lead the Westerners to the NECBL finals in August, where they eventually fell to the Newport Gulls for the Fay Vincent Trophy. For the Westerners, the oldest team in the league, it was their second trip to the finals in the past three seasons.
Along the way, Shank opened a lot of eyes. The 6-foot-1, smooth-fielding shortstop was named to the Perfect Game Summer Collegiate All-America Team, ranking third among all players at his position in 25 leagues. He was also ranked by Perfect Game as the 10th best prospect (regardless of position) in the NECBL and named First-Team shortstop. Perfect Game is considered to be the world’s largest baseball scouting service.
"I watched him for the last two years at Marist College, and from the first game or two that I saw him play, I knew who he was," said Westerners’ Director of Baseball Operations John W. (Jack) Deering, who signed Shank to the team. "To be quite frank, (Zach)’s an outstanding shortstop. He has great range, he’s always on top of his game and his throwing arm is outstanding. It was clocked from deep shortstop and it’s 94 miles an hour. And he’s so accurate and so smooth. He’s just got all the tools."
Deering, in fact, wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear Shank’s name called when the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft is held next June. If that does indeed happen, it would be a dream come true for Shank.
"It’s real exciting for me (to be named a prospect by Perfect Game)," said Shank, a senior at Marist College (N.Y.). "Obviously my goal is to get drafted and to keep playing baseball after college and I feel like that’s one more thing to boost my resume, I guess."
Asked if there have been any indications that he could drafted, Shank said, "Here and there … not much, though. Hopefully, it starts coming in soon."
At the same time, the former Warwick star is just trying to keep a level head about what the future might hold in store for him.
"I don’t want to get too high about getting drafted and then have it not happen," he said. "So I’m just kinda trying to stay level."
That approach of not taking anything for granted has also translated into his work ethic. His batting average has improved each year that he has played with the Division-One Marist Red Foxes (N.Y.), going from .257 in his freshman season to .269 as a sophomore and then .321 this past spring while tying for the team lead in hits (61).
Despite his success, he continues to work on trying to improve in all areas. June is only nine months away and Shank is doing all he can to make himself more attractive to an MLB team.
When a caller questioned him about what part of his game he would like to build up, Shank said, "Everything. I would like to be able to hit for a little more power. I think that would help a lot."
Shank is considered to be more of a gap hitter than a power hitter, although he contributed with five home runs and 29 RBI’s for Danbury this summer. He is also known as someone who will make contact, as evidenced by the fact he ranked 18th toughest to strike out nationally among all Division-One players last spring. In 190 at-bats, he whiffed just 11 times (17.1 average).
"(Zach)’s a pure .300 hitter," Deering said. "He’s a real contact hitter."
"It’s kinda important in my mind to hit .300 or better," Shank acknowledged.
That was one of the tools that led Deering to recruit Shank for the Westerners. Mike Orefice and Hempfield grad Brett Houseal, two other Marist College players, also competed with the Westerners this summer.
Shank had actually played with the Amsterdam Mohawks in the Perfect Game College Baseball League after his sophomore season, batting .341 and tying for the team lead in doubles (10) in 45 games.
This summer, playing in the NECBL was probably a step up in competition and he was equal to the challenge.
"I wanted to go there and see how I fared against better players," Shank said. "I got off to a slow start, so I was kinda doubting myself a little at the beginning and then I started getting hot toward the middle of the season and kept it going through the end. So I feel like I can play with those guys."
Shank’s level of play mirrored that of the Westerners. According to the team’s web site, Danbury struggled to stay out of the NECBL’s cellar during the month of June, but then caught fire in July. Shank, meanwhile, came out of his early-season funk to bat .308 in 40 regular-season games and chipped in with 12 doubles and 13 stolen bases — both of which were team-highs.
"In the past, I’ve had trouble stealing bases, so this summer was like the first time I’ve had much success," Shank said. "I’m not really sure what to take out of it. Hopefully, it continues and I can get a couple of stolen bases here (at Marist)."
As the Westerners won two playoff series, against the North Adams SteepleCats and Keene Swamp Bats, to advance to the championship series, Shank was at the heart of their success.
In seven playoff games, he batted a sizzling 12-for-26, good for a .462 average. In their final game, Shank had Danbury’s only two-hit performance off of Newport starter Pete Kelich.
With the summer behind him, Shank has since returned to Marist College, where he is preparing for what he hopes will be a big senior season for the Red Foxes. From there, he will keep his fingers crossed about getting a chance to play professionally.
If history is any indication, it’s worth noting that MLB picked 11 Westerners in the 2012 Draft. Deering, who previously worked as a bird dog scout in the San Francisco Giants’ organization for 20 years, likes Shank’s chances.
"From my point of view, I think they’re very good," Deering said. "You have to look at what he’s accomplished. He’s an accomplished .300 hitter, he makes good contact with the ball, he goes down to first base in four seconds or less – and I timed him myself. It depends on how fast he gets out of the box after he hits the ball. And he’s got an arm like Shawon Dunston used to have with the Cubs and he’s so sure-handed and he’s so smooth. He’s that good … (Being listed in the top three at shortstop by Perfect Game) is a big deal when you stop and think that they’re looking at 25 summer leagues throughout the country." More SHANK, page B-10