Courtesy of: Cole Shelton and the Canadian Baseball Network.
When the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired all-star Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles it was huge news. Overlooked in the news was that Brampton, Ont., native Zach Pop was heading to Baltimore after having a lot of success in the minor leagues.
Around the Brampton and Toronto area, the trade was not about Machado, rather hometown native Pop heading to the American League East, the same division as the Toronto Blue Jays. Not only could Pop soon be playing against the Blue Jays, it hurts Toronto even more that he was once drafted by the club out of high school but ended up not signing.
Pop, 21, who pitched for the Ontario Blue Jays and has been compared to a right-handed Zac Britton, was moved to the Orioles along with Rylan Bannon, 22, Yusniel Diaz, 21, Dean Kremer, 22 and OF Breyvic Valera 26. Diaz, 21, hit two home runs in the Futures Game and was the fourth rated prospect in the Dodger system, according to MLB.Pipeline. Bannon was the 27th ranked Dodger prospect and Kremer was No. 28.
“At the time, I was basically a new pitcher, learning how to pitch. I’d been a position player, a first baseman, and my junior year, I started transitioning to a pitcher,” said Pop to Fangraphs of his decision to not sign with the Blue Jays. “My first real full season on the mound was probably my senior year. Coming out of high school, I would sit 90-93 and touch 94. My sophomore year [at the University of Kentucky], from lifting and kind of growing into my body, is when I got another velocity jump and hit 99 and 100.
“I wanted to go to college for that experience and to develop there. I thought I could go higher in the draft — the first couple of rounds — out of college. Unfortunately, I got the injury, which really hurt me in that respect. I had a forearm flexor strain, but I rehabbed that, and this year I’ve been feeling really good. Knock on wood.”
Ultimately, Pop was drafted by the Dodgers in the seventh round of 2017 and has found great success since starting out his pro career.
Even with Pop not being the marquee name in the trade, he still is a very big part of the deal for the Orioles. Pop, 21, has had a stellar 2018 season and has arguably been one of the best pitchers in all of minor-leagues.
In 2018, Pop has pitched in 30 games — at class-A Rancho Cucamonga and class-A Great Lakes — and has pitched to a 1-2 record with a 1.04 ERA and an impressive 0.88 WHIP. To pitch that well the Canadian has relied heavily on his two-seam sinker which is his go-to pitch, which Pop can throw hard — up to 99 mph — and locate well.
With help from his sinker, Pop, from low-A to high-A has improved his ground ball rate tremendously as it has gone up from 59.5% to 66.7% which has resulted in fewer hard-hit balls and fewer home runs. Not only is Pop not allowing many runs he is also not allowing hits in high-A. The 6-foot-4 right-hander has limited opposing hitters to a batting average of .146 and an ERA of 0.33. If batters do in fact get on, Pop is very good at limiting the damage and escaping trouble as in high-A Pop has a left on base percentage of 95.2%.
Pop will look to continue this success in Baltimore’s organization as he has made tremendous strides out of the bullpen in the Dodgers organization. He was assigned to double-A Bowie.
For people in Brampton, it is more about Pop, the hometown guy being traded rather than Machado being traded, and Pop has shown why he has so many fans this season.