The former catcher will try to get to the majors as a pitcher. Seipel's first game with his new team is June 19 at 6 p.m. CDT
The pride of Eagan, Minn., Zach Seipel, put together quite a career catching for the Patriots, a junior American Legion team. As a high school athlete, Seipel helped the Patriots to an American Legion State Tournament appearance with his bat hitting .319 along the way. Following three years of playing collegiate baseball with the University of Minnesota Crookston, the catcher's mit and bat are a distant memory and Seipel is now a professional pitcher.
“Growing up, I was a pitcher, but I would always play another position,” Seipel said. “It wasn’t a primary thing for me. In middle school, I was more of an infielder, and in high school, I was a straight catcher. When I made the transition to college, I was pretty excited about [becoming a pitcher]. I love pitching, and I knew that I could throw decently hard.”
Seipel spent his high school career behind the plate, and that is exactly what the Minnesota Crookston Golden Eagles recruited Seipel to do.
One day in the fall of 2015, Seipel finished a practice catching for the pitchers and asked if he could switch spots for a moment.
“I caught a bullpen, and at the end of one of the sessions, I pulled one of my coaches and asked if I could throw a bullpen,” Seipel said. “So I threw, one and they saw the velocity. From then on, every day, I slowly put away the catching stuff and became a pitcher a few weeks later.”
In his first year on the rubber, Seipel posted a 4.24 ERA in 17 innings for UMC. The then-freshman struck out 28 batters and recorded 11 saves en route to earning an All-NSIC Second Team honor.
One year later, as a sophomore, Seipel owned the team-best ERA with 2.41 in 41 innings and led the NSIC with 12 saves. Seipel tallied 55 strikeouts, walked 22 and earned the Second Team honors for the second time in as many years.
It is no secret to baseball players and fans that being a pitcher requires a different mental state than any other position. Seipel claims his time calling pitches as a catcher eased his switch to the mound.
“It helped that I was a catcher before,” Seipel said. “Because they kind of have the same brains and are working hand-in-hand. Once I got on the mound, I just had to improve my confidence and embrace the calm and collectiveness.”
Seipel’s velocity ranged to the 90s and for his junior campaign, which proved to be his farewell year for the Golden Eagles. The right-hander's season ERA sat at 2.70, and he notched eight saves. Seipel pitched 4.1 less innings than the year before, but managed to strike out 63, eight more than his sophomore season. He also took home an All-NSIC First Team award.
With one year left in Seipel’s collegiate career, the junior began to get calls from big league clubs. Before the draft, seven different teams either contacted or watched Seipel.
Through all the conversations and scouts, the Atlanta Braves appeared to be the front-runner. Rumblings and rumors suggested Seipel would be drafted between the 20th and 30th rounds. As a junior, Seipel considered all options should his name be called.
“The biggest thing was the money situation,” Seipel said. “I had to have set in my mind what money I wanted, and what money I would take. Then there’s the schooling part. I thought a lot about the draft the week before. I had it set in my mind if they were going to give me the amount I was looking for, I was going to have to sign. It’s a dream and something I couldn’t pass on. When the day came, the offer was what I was hoping for, and that was it for me.”
Eventually on June 6, the third day of the MLB draft, the Braves selected Seipel in the 27th round and 802nd overall.
In these situations, the player tends to know exactly when his name is coming. Although Seipel expected to be drafted, seeing his name appear for Atlanta took him by surprise.
“Me, my mom and my girlfriend were watching the draft-tracker in my house,” Seipel said. “We were watching different videos on and off to try and keep our minds off of it. Then my name popped up, and I didn’t get the call from the scout until after my name showed up. We were kind of speechless at first, but my mom started screaming. I don’t really know how to explain it. I was just at a loss for words.”
Someone who knew exactly what to say about the situation was Seipel’s head coach at UMC, Steve Gust.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Gust said. “He drew a lot of interest from a lot of different clubs. So I figured he was going to go, and he’s got the stuff to pitch at that level. I always thought he had it from the first day we put him on the mound, and if he developed like I thought he could, he could make it.”
The slot value for a player taken after the 10th round is $125,000. The undisclosed offer the Braves presented for Seipel matched his expectations, and Seipel officially became a professional baseball player.
Even though he watched his pitcher leave before his senior season at UMC, Gust knows Seipel made the right decision.
“Zach and I have been in this process hand-in-hand,” Gust said. “To be honest, the offer that the Braves gave him was a no-brainer. They gave him enough compensation to tell him that they’re committed to him for the long term. I told him, ‘you got to do it.’”
Seipel quickly traveled to Florida for paperwork and then relocated to Danville, Va. where he lives in a hotel and will play for the Danville Braves, the advanced rookie league in the Braves’ minor league system. Danville plays their season opener on Tuesday, June 19, and their season lasts through August.
With a new season and team looming, Seipel admitted taking a little time to process being a professional baseball player.
“It didn’t hit me until I actually got [to Florida],” Seipel said. “That’s when everything really hit me with all the paperwork. I knew it had happened, and my life was going to change, but it hadn’t really sunk in.”
Four levels of minor league baseball sit between Seipel and major league baseball, but Gust believes Seipel could reach the goal of pitching in the major leagues.
“I think he’s got a chance to climb the ladder,” Gust said. “I think in a few years, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in a big league uniform. It’s all about the person, and there’s no question Zach’s got a chance because of ability. But he also has all the character traits that you look for in a guy trying to do something that’s awfully tough to do. I would never bet against Zach Seipel.”
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