Zach Eflin's Draft Stock Is On The Rise
For high school prospects, the summer is an opportunity to face opponents from around the country and get on scouts' radars for the spring leading up to the draft. The time in between is a chance to separate from the pack, and Zach Eflin is doing just that.
A senior righthander at Hagerty High in Oviedo, Fla., Eflin caught the eyes of scouts last summer with his projectable frame, easy arm action and delivery. Coming into the season, he ranked 34th among high school draft prospects, but he hasn't always been viewed as a pitching prospect.
"I've known Zach since he was in eighth grade," Hagerty head coach Jered Goodwin said. "He came on early as a hitter. He came in at about 5-foot-10 and by the end of his freshman year he was 6-foot-3. He just hit a growth spurt and had some growing pains with it. For the first year or so, we just let his body grow."
During his sophomore year, Eflin started throwing well and closed out the district final game against Oviedo High and righthander A.J. Cole, a fourth-round pick that year and recipient of a $2 million signing bonus.
Hagerty has a strength coach who competed in weightlifting competitions when he was younger, so he has brought explosive workouts to the program. There is the usual work with bands, but players also do heavier resistance and have routines for the core and upper body. They also have three sets of tires—350, 450 and 550 pounds—that they flip, a 20-pound sledgehammer that they swing at different angles, and sleds for resistance running.
"Right now we have four guys on our team that are (throwing) 88-90 mph and above," Goodwin said. "It's obviously paid dividends for our staff."
Eflin can attest to that statement, and it's one of the reasons his draft stock is on the rise.
"The strength has caught up with the ability to repeat the arm action and delivery," an area scout said. "It's one of the cleaner arm actions and deliveries you can have as a prep. He's done a good job of building arm strength and strength of the body."
After ranging from 89-93 mph with his fastball last summer, Eflin was sitting at 92-93 mph this spring and has reached the mid-90s. His best secondary offering is a plus changeup with sink. He uses a knuckle-curveball that's still a work in progress, but it has improved this spring and has a chance to be a power pitch with good depth. The draft is still too far away to determine exactly where Eflin could be picked, but it's obvious he has a chance to go early.
Through his first 26 innings this spring, Eflin was 3-1, 0.00 with 46 strikeouts and five walks. Opponents were hitting .091 off of him and scored just three unearned runs.
"An outing doesn't go by without there being some sort of heat in there," the scout said. "There's some sort of decision maker with presence there. Every time you walk in the park you feel he's a high profile guy that you're looking at in the first couple rounds."
Having the opportunity to sign a pro contact or earn a scholarship is enough for most high school players to push themselves and work hard, but Eflin has something different that motivates him. His 19-year-old sister, Candace, is autistic and they share a special bond.
"My relationship with my sister is very special," Eflin said. "It's not like a normal relationship. She's the most important thing in my life. I've been with her every step of the way and she's been with me. I'm blessed to have her in my life. I feel like if she was normal I wouldn't have worked so much."
But Eflin shows more than just love for his sister. He and his teammates help with the Challenger Division of the local Little League, a level of baseball and softball designated for kids with mental and physical handicaps. They go every Wednesday and Saturday when there isn't conflict with a game to spend time with the players.
"You get to see the kids off the field and how they react and how humble all of them are," Goodwin said. "It's a pretty cool thing. Stuff like that tells you what type of kid Zach really is. There's not a time he's going to miss unless we have a game."
Eflin is a self-described family man and even babysits Goodwin's 5- and 3-year-old children. His decision to commit to Central Florida was influenced by how close he is to his sister and family. Eflin lives near the campus and grew up going to Knights baseball games. Pitching there would afford him a chance to pitch for a Division I program while getting an education, but the chance to play professional baseball may force a difficult decision. However, Eflin doesn't seemed fazed by potentially moving farther away and for longer periods of time.
"I'm a family man, but if it comes to it, I can cope," he said.
That decision is still a few months away, but at this rate, a team could have reason to make bypassing college a little easier.