Shank gets taste of the big leagues in spring training

By on April 13, 2016

WHS grad singles against the Indians

Lititz’s Zach Shank, who got his first big league spring training hit this March, is beginning his fourth professional season in the Seattle Mariners’ organization with the Double-A Jackson Generals. (Photo by Nat Thomas/Jackson Generals)

Coming off a 2015 season in which Kyle Seager got 623 at-bats for the Seattle Mariners, there was nothing noteworthy about him starting at third base in the M’s spring training game against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday, March 29 at Goodyeark Park in Goodyear, Ariz.

What happened in the ninth inning of that game, however, was notable for Lititz’s Zach Shank.

Playing a back-up role for Mariners in their Cactus League game that day, the 2009 Warwick High School grad batted for Seager and got his first big league spring training hit, an infield single to shortstop off of Indians’ pitcher Dan Otero in front of 5,382 fans.

“I’ll take it any way I can get it,” Shank laughed. “That’s fine with me.”

In the box score, it still looks like a line drive, right?

“It sure does,” said Shank, who later scored on an RBI single by Daniel Robertson, giving the Mariners their only run in a 4-1 loss to the Tribe.

That was one of three games in which the 25-year-old Shank played for the Mariners this spring. He also pinch-ran and played third against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday, March 19, then did the same against the Colorado Rockies in both teams’ final spring training game on Saturday, April 2, striking out in his only at-bat against Gonzalez Germen.

“It was just like a day-to-day thing, they’ll ask five, six, maybe seven minor leaguers to go back up games just because the big-leaguers aren’t going to play the whole game most of the time,” Shank said. “(The big-leaguers) were all there, it was a really cool experience. They’re all very similar to how we are in the minor leagues. They’ll talk about their at-bats, about the opposing pitcher, about the approaches and stuff like that, and then there’s some goofing around too. It’s very similar to how it is at the level I’ve played at.”

Ultimately, it had to be considered a positive sign for Shank’s career that he was among the Mariners’ call-ups a handful of times in his fourth professional season.

“I think it’s more a sign that they trust you,” he said. “A lot of those games are on TV and stuff like that, and they don’t want to put a product out on the field that’s going to make the Mariners look bad. So that’s kinda how I look at it, that they trusted me to go out there and do my job basically, which, I think that’s a good thing.”

Now that the regular season is underway, Shank is part of a quality product that the Double-A Jackson Generals are putting on the field every night. A 28th-round draft pick of the Mariners in 2013, he played in 60 games with the Generals last season, but also got his first taste of Triple-A ball, appearing in 33 games with the Tacoma Rainiers.

Asked if he was disappointed not to be assigned to Tacoma to start this year, Shank said, “I wouldn’t say I was disappointed. I had anticipated coming back to Jackson.”

Those feelings were only reinforced after seeing some of the pick-ups the M’s made in the off-season, including getting outfielder Boog Powell from the Tampa Bay Rays in a six-player deal, claiming Dan Robertson off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels, acquiring outfielder Leonys Martin in a trade with the Texas Rangers, and more.

“We signed a lot of free agents in the off-season, made some moves, and just seeing the numbers, we have a bunch of guys who have big-league experience that were going to end up in the minor leagues,” Shank said. “So it didn’t really look like there was much room, and if I did go to Tacoma, I wasn’t sure how much I would end up playing. I would much rather be somewhere where I’m going to play a little bit more. I think I have a chance to do that here.”

Shank started Jackson’s opener last Thursday and played third base in the Generals’ 6-0 win over the Montgomery Biscuits, going 0-for-2, but walking twice and scoring a run. Unfortunately, though, he is still battling a minor ailment which initially developed in the spring. He went back to the doctor, who advised him not to play in the Generals’ second game.

“I’ve been available to play the last couple of nights, but my manager (Daren Brown) just wanted to let me get a couple of days off,” he said.

When Shank returns to the lineup, he will have his eyes set on improving his stats from the 2015 season. In 93 games with the Rainiers and Generals, he batted a combined .250, with one homer, 18 RBI’s, 36 runs, 12 doubles and 8 triples.

“There were a lot of at-bats that I think I could have done better,” Shank said. “I feel like I almost threw away at-bats last year, and I think if I can just kinda lock in a little bit more and be a little more consistent this year, I’d like to see those numbers rise a little bit … Batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage – I think there’s room for all of those to improve, and that’s what I’m looking to do, really.”

The former Warwick star expects to be used as a utility player again this season by the Generals, having played six different positions on the field in 2015. Led by Guillermo Heredia, a recently signed player from Cuba who is batting .500 with a homer and six RBI’s in four games, Jackson has jumped out to a quick 3-1 start.

“I think they’re going to use me just wherever they have a need, pretty much,” Shank said, “which is OK with me, as long as it’s not once every five games … I think every opportunity that you get anywhere is going to make you more comfortable in the long run, and I can feel myself being more comfortable in that utility role that I’ve been playing.”

If Shank is thinking about promotions or getting to a certain level this season, he’s not letting on. Personally, his goal for is just to put up good numbers and then let the chips fall where they will.

“My hope is just to play well, really, and then whatever happens from there happens,” Shank said. “It’s not in my hands at that point. So I’m just going to focus on doing what I can and then put it in (the Mariners’) hands.”

A year ago, Shank and his Double-A teammates played against guys who eventually finished the season in the big leagues. So, does Shank allow himself to think about that possibility happening for him in 2016, even if it’s for a cup of coffee?

“Not really,” he said. “There’s still some steps that have to be taken, I feel, like before that happens. Anything’s possible, it’s happened to guys before.”

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