BA Newsletter: Get Analysis, Rankings Delivered To Your Inbox!

Senzel Took Unique Path To Top Of Draft

Senzel Took Unique Path To Top Of Draft

Vince Lara-Cinisomo
Nick Senzel was ‘little, really little,’ as a freshman, Farragut High coach Matt Buckner said (Saul Young/Knoxville News-Sentinel/ZUMA Press)

If there is a road to being the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, Nick Senzel took the most circuitous route.

He didn’t play ball for two years in seventh and eighth grade—“really important development time,” his high school coach said. He was small—5-foot-4, 130 pounds—as a high school freshman. He didn’t play in many showcases, or for any travel ball powerhouses.

He was the product of a single-parent household, and the father-son dynamic was strained at times. And that got more complicated when Senzel’s dad had to move the family to England for his job.

Yet Senzel overcame all the hurdles. Since his stellar showing in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2015, he was assured of being a first-round pick in 2016. But the journey to the No. 2 pick was anything but easy.

‘Vicious Competitor’

Jeff Senzel, Nick’s dad, also played college ball—basketball, that is. At 6-foot-7, Senzel played at Divison III Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and worked himself into an all-conference player. A pattern was being formed.

Senzel didn’t pick up a baseball for two years, during a key development time for players.

When the family moved to Kesgrave, England—Jeff was an engineer at international engineering firm Jacobs—so that Jeff could work on decommissioning a nuclear facility, they made an effort to find a baseball league for Nick, to no avail.

It was the kind of absence that could derail a career before it began.

“He didn’t play baseball for two years, which in that period of time of development, seventh and eighth grade, are key years,” said Matt Buckner, Senzel’s coach at Farragut High in Knoxville, Tenn.

“But (Nick’s) dad put everything aside for the family,” Buckner said. “A lot of people don’t do that."

Senzel agreed, calling his dad his biggest influence.

“My dad, he’s been there from the start,” Nick said. “He’s always believed in me, and been there from the beginning. I wouldn’t be here without him.”

When the family returned to Tennessee, the younger Senzel was determined to return to the game he loved, after not picking up a baseball for two years.

Nicky Delmonico was part of a veteran Farragut team when Nick Senzel was trying out (Photo by Danny Parker)

He tried out for the Farragut baseball team as a freshman but didn’t make it. He did get noticed, however, by Farragut’s new coach, Buckner, who had taken over for former coach Tommy Pharr.

“He was little, really little,” Buckner said. “We had a veteran team—Nicky Delmonico, Phil Pfeifer.”

“His freshman year he started at shortstop for junior varsity and my JV coaches were telling me, ‘this kid makes crazy plays.’ But he was young, I think he had just turned 14. And he was 5-4, 130, maybe 140 pounds.”

But Buckner soon learned that Senzel had an outsized drive.

“Nicky’s intense. He’s a vicious competitor. I remember someone showed me a video, when he was 10 years old, he ran over the catcher. I mean, he mashes this kid, he was like twice his size.

“He’s a pretty vicious competitor, but I haven’t seen many great athletes who are not.”

Growth Plan

Senzel “grew a bunch” between his freshman and sophomore years, Buckner said, and then formed a solid middle infield with future Vols teammate A.J. Simcox. But Senzel’s development hit a new plateau the next season.

It seemed a fait accompli that Senzel would end up at Tennessee with best friend Kyle Serrano (Photo by Tony Farlow)

“It was really strange,” Buckner said. “As a junior, he hit a whole new level. He was real fast. He went from an average runner to 6.7, 6.6s (in the 60-yard dash).”

By senior year, scouts were buzzing around the Farragut campus but they were there to see Kyle Serrano, son of the Tennessee coach and Senzel’s buddy.

Senzel was committed to Georgia and had struggled at the start of the year.

“I was telling a Rockies scout, ‘This guy can really hit and really run,’” Buckner said. “Some scouts saw Kyle early on in senior year. Then by midseason, Nick put together two of the best months I’d ever seen, but nobody really saw it.”

Next Step

When Georgia fired coach David Perno after the 2013 season, Senzel went looking for a new school. He was not drafted out of high school, so he knew he needed more time to pursue his goal of being a pro ballplayer.

With a good friend in Kyle Serrano, it seemed a good match with Tennessee. Coach Dave Serrano knew Senzel and his dad well, and had been in to watch Senzel at Farragut.

According to Buckner, Coach Serrano knew he had to have Senzel on his team.

“He told me, ‘I don’t know how I couldn’t ask him to come,’” Buckner said.

And for Serrano, it was one of the easier selling jobs.

“As the father of his best friend, I knew more about Nick than I knew about other recruits,” Dave Serrano said. “When Kyle got into trouble, I knew Nick was probably right there.

“But he was the total package when he got to campus. Incredible-looking athlete, he could run, could hit. It was just a matter of growing up. The coaching staff put him in a disciplined situation and a structured situation.”

Senzel hit 364/.418/.558 on the Cape

Serrano stressed that Senzel wasn’t a problem child, but growing up as a child of divorce and having moved out of the country as a youngster created some challenges.

“I’ll say this, we can take a lot of credit as coaches, but I think a lot of the credit goes to Jeff Senzel,” Serrano said. “Jeff has been a single parent for a big part of Nick’s life, and over my years of knowing Jeff, what Jeff does for his daughter and Nick . . . He’s a grinder and I think that’s what Nick gets from him.”

The Cape

Senzel’s first two years at Tennessee were certainly successful. He batted higher than .300, walked more than he struck out and scouts knew he could hit.

But his performance for Brewster in the wood-bat Cape Cod League made the industry take notice. Senzel was MVP of the top summer circuit after hitting .364/.418/.558 to lead the league in hits (56), OPS (.976), RBIs (33) and runs (34). BA ranked him as the top prospect on the Cape after that summer and jumped to near the top of draft boards.

That kind of offensive showing surprised even his former coaches.

“It was crazy to see how far he’d come,” Buckner said. “It was mind-blowing. He’s a dude.”

Serrano agreed. “To be honest, going into his junior year, his (draft) fate was sealed from what he did on the Cape. I want to give full credit to Nick. It kicked in for him.”

Not satisfied, Senzel went out and slashed .352/.456/.595 with eight home runs and 59 RBIs in 57 games as a junior. He struck out just 21 times and walked 40 times while hitting a Southeastern Conference-best 25 doubles. He also stole 25 bases in 29 attempts.

The Reds took notice and after the Phillies took San Diego-area prep outfielder Mickey Moniak No. 1, they swooped in and took Senzel.

“We’re really excited. This is the guy we wanted,” scouting director Chris Buckley told BA correspondent C. Trent Rosecrans. “He’s a very polished player, and one of the better hitters—if not the best hitter—in the draft. We think his power will improve the more he plays. He’s a complete player. He runs, throws and plays his position well.”

Typical of Senzel, he deflected credit to his dad and his coaches, especially Serrano.

‘I talk to him a lot,’ Senzel says of college coach Dave Serrano.

“I talk to him a lot,” Senzel said of his college coach. “He got to be (at Senzel’s home) on draft day on June 9. I just take away during my seasons at the University of Tennessee, every team talk, whether good or bad, now being in pro ball and having some time to think, looking back at all the conversations, they all meant something.

“You don’t realize until after the fact some of the stuff he said, but when you think about it, it meant something. I can’t thank him enough for the opportunity to play there. I learned a lot from his guidance.”

Pro Ball

Senzel had little time off between the end of his college career and the start of his pro career. By June 17, he was playing at Rookie-level Billings.

“It was overwhelming, a bit,” Buckner said of Senzel’s quick transition. “His head was swirling. It happens so fast. There’s a lot of responsibility as the No. 2 pick and sometimes that goes on your shoulders. He was a long way out in Billings, not near family. I think that was pretty tough.”

Senzel has the arm strength to play third but could end up in a corner outfield spot as well

Senzel hit just .152 in 10 games before he was promoted to low Class A Dayton Once he got there, the switch flipped back on. As of Aug. 10, he had an OPS of .970 and had stolen 12 bases.

Senzel said he hasn’t done anything different and the Reds haven’t made any tweaks. “We have not had really any baseball-related talk,” he said. “They have just let me settle in and go play.”

Not that Senzel would change anything now, Buckner said.


Reds 2020 MLB Draft Preview: Replenishing A Shallow Cincinnati Farm System

Examining the Reds' organization strength and weaknesses entering the 2020 MLB Draft.

“His swing is as simple as it can get,” the Farragut coach said. “It doesn’t look much different than it was when he was 14 years old. I’m not taking credit for it. I saw a video when he was 10 years old, the stance and swing look exactly the same.”

And a pro scout who saw him recently was impressed.

“Pure tools-wise, if he went No. 1 overall it would have made perfect sense to me,” the pro scout said. “He definitely looks like everything I heard about coming out of the draft. Based on the BP alone, I was in. He has a quiet, explosive swing and hammers line drives all over the field. You could see plus raw power there in BP.”

Senzel admits he’s beginning to wear down after a long season, but knows instructional league lies ahead.

Now, as his year nears an end, Senzel admitted he is starting to feel the wear of the long season.

“I think (as far as) the overall grind of the minor leagues . . . I’ve played a lot of games. It’s an every day, in-and-out grind. The biggest deference is you’re playing every day, every single day, whether on the road or at home. I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little worn out. The key is to keep playing through it and grinding.

“It’s great to represent the organization that drafted you. You just want the opportunity to compete.”

It’s fair to say Senzel is doing that and more.

Are you a member?

In order to access this exclusive content you must have a Baseball America Account. 

Login or sign up  

Additionally, you can subscribe to Baseball America's newsletter and receive all of our rankings, analysis, prospect insight & more delivered to your inbox every day. Click here to get started. 

of Free Stories Remaining