Here and there you can find the usual quick notes on the Diamondbacks having claimed Tyler Zuber. My first reaction was: “are we really doing this again?” My second reaction was: “why did they claim Zuber?”. My third reaction was: “let’s see what we can find on the Internet”. That’s where I found this video but in case you don’t have 30 minutes, you can read a summary of it (and more) down below.
He was “rehabbing” in Arizona.
The answer to “why did the Diamondbacks claim Tyler Zuber” might be: coincidence. I think a lot of things going on in sports are based on pure coincidence and knowing people. My guess is that the coincidence here was that the Kansas City Royals decided to waive Tyler Zuber and the knowing part is that the Diamondbacks knew Tyler Zuber because somehow and someone in the organisation saw him working out and throw sessions during his rehab in Arizona.
“Just living the dream here in Arizona.” - Tyler Zuber when asked how he is doing. YouTube interview in September 2022.
He knows how to reinvent himself.
The right-hander’s story on how he got to the MLB draft is rather funny. According to himself he could hardly throw strikes in high school, playing against teams in a state where they basically throw every tall kid in a baseball team no matter what his age. He started to work out in gyms and long tossing and all of a sudden dominated.
He got a scholarship at Arkansas State and, in his own words, dominated as a freshman, but got distracted by playing in front of crowds and “sucked” for two years.
“I got to college and tried to be someone that I wasn’t,” Zuber said. “For example, I was trying to be Aroldis Chapman. Obviously I’m not left-handed and throw over 100-mph, but I was trying to be that guy.” - Tyler Zuber on his time as a junior at Arkasas State. Article on Royals Review in 2020.
“He tried to do things he wasn’t necessarily capable of and it turned into frustration.” - Caleb Longshore on Zuber during his time as a pitching coach at Arkasas State . Article on Royals Review in 2020.
In his senior year in 2017 he reinvented himself again, after passing through Cape Cod (without much success). But an 0.86 WHIP and 5.00 SO/BB in his final year at A-State got him up on the MLB draft boards.
Finally, I was like ‘why not be the best version of me?” Because that’s what got me here. If I can’t be the best version of me, how can I be the best version of someone else?” - Tyler Zuber on turning himself around at Arkansas State. Article on Royals Review in 2020.
He was not a main priority.
He remembers draft day, when the Royals took him in the 6th round with the 180th overall pick, as exciting but is immediately aware of reality: Zuber signs for just $2,500 with the Royals.
“To me, I took it as...a senior sign, not a lot of money invested in me, not a lot of resources were invested in me, so it’s kinda like...‘yeah, we like you and all, but this guy we paid 4 million dollars to is our main priority kind of deal’, which I understood.” - Tyler Zuber on his time in the Royals minor league system. YouTube interview in September 2022.
Being a 22-year old and cheap reliever in 2017, the Royals push him aggressively through the system on a make-or-break-path to the MLB. He is okay for two seasons, but really puts himself on the map after the 2019 season when he dominates AA after a mid-season promotion with a 0.885 WHIP and 6.00 SO/BB in 26.0 innings. He tests himself in the Dominican Winter League with a positive result and Zuber feels he is on “a rocket flight” to the MLB.
Start 2020 he hits the FanGraphs prospect list and is graded with a 40 FV.
“His arm is so fast as to almost look subliminal, and Zuber’s command of both breaking balls is much better than one expects from a college relief prospect. His changeup usage has been inconsistent over the last two years but at times it’s a quality pitch, and one Zuber seemed to be rebooting during the spring with some success. Zuber doesn’t have any one dominant pitch, as is typical of high-leverage relievers, but he does have several very good ones that I think will enable him to be a seventh or eighth inning type of arm.” - Eric Longenhagen on Tyler Zuber in 2020 on FanGraphs.
“His average spin rate on his fastball (2400) and his breaking ball (2750) rank third-best in the Royals organization.” - Royals Review on Tyler Zuber in 2020.
But the talent is one thing, mentality is another. In the quoted article on Royals Review his coaches at college mention his devotedness and loyalty, the player himself in the YouTube also makes ware of setting priorities and getting to know humility and being humble, especially after his terrible junior year.
Zuber is all set for the 2020 season, but then COVID sets in and, according to the player himself, the momentum ebbs away and uncertainty sets in. He makes his MLB debut in the shortened 2020 season though, but looks not ready yet and has huge command problems. In 2021 he is moved up and down between AAA and the MLB. While he pitches well in the Triple A East, he isn’t able to translate that success yet to the MLB level in that same year. Especially his fastball is graded poorly in 2021, but statcast isn’t that impressed by his changeup and curveball either.
In 2022 Tyler Zuber doesn’t make it to Spring Training camp as he is put on the 60-day IL with a right shoulder impingement syndrome.
Shoulder impingement is a very common cause of shoulder pain, where a tendon (band of tissue) inside your shoulder rubs or catches on nearby tissue and bone as you lift your arm. It affects the rotator cuff tendon, which is the rubbery tissue that connects the muscles around your shoulder joint to the top of your arm. - Explanation on nhs.uk on what a shoulder impingement is
Takeaways for 2023.
And now what’s in it for 2023? There are no 60-day IL this off-season so Tyler Zuber is either on or off the 40-man roster. In Kansas City he was obviously going to be off (rule 5 roster crunch), so is it reasonable to think he will stay on the 40-man roster in Arizona? What are the Diamondbacks looking for?
For a 6th round pick as a reliever out of college Zuber has already made it quite far at 27 years of age and that says something about him and his pitching.
My guess is that the Diamondbacks will look if Zuber can get the spin movement “back” on his fastball. The Royals Review article repped of a 2400 spin rate, while statcast has clocked it at just 2230-2240. Looks like a huge bridge to cross over from my point of view, but it is probably the only way (unless he adds velocity to his 94-95 mph fastball) to get to continuous success, since the slider is fine but the other secondary pitches look like they won’t make much of a difference.
If he is able to achieve that, then a middle relief role lies ahead of him. If not, he will probably get waived and/or shelled in Reno, but let’s keep the positivism going for the moment.