PROSPECT REVIEW: ZACH BRZYKCY
Age on opening day 2024: 24
How acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent in 2020 from Virginia Tech
Ranking: No. 28 per MLB Pipeline, No. 22 per Baseball America
MLB ETA: 2024
* Projected by MLB Pipeline
Signing bonus: $20,000
2023 levels: Double-A Harrisburg (injured list)
2023 stats: N/A
Quotable: “Like I told him: ‘We know what you can do, so let’s get your strength back, get you back tossing and we’ll get you on the mound as soon as we can. But if you keep throwing strikes, your future’s bright here. Believe me, you didn’t have to impress me here. I’ve seen what you can do. You’re coming off a really good year, so let’s get you healthy and get you back.’” – Davey Martinez after Brzykcy was shut down with initial forearm strain in spring training
2023 analysis: Brzykcy (pronounced "BRICK-see") has had an uphill climb for much of his baseball career.
He struggled throughout most of his three seasons at Virginia Tech, ending with a 9.00 ERA in seven appearances in 2020 before the COVID-10 pandemic shutdown. And although he had impressed in the Cape Cod League the previous summer, the right-hander went undrafted in the shortened 2020 draft.
The Nationals then signed him as an undrafted free agent for a mere $20,000 and he made his professional debut the following year right at High-A Wilmington. He went just 6-4 with a 5.20 ERA and 1.283 WHIP, but also had 86 strikeouts and 25 walks in 62 ⅓ innings to catch the eyes of team officials.
Brzykcy started the 2022 season back at Wilmington, where he dominated to the tune of a 6-1 record, 1.66 ERA, four saves, 0.923 WHIP, 39 strikeouts and 10 walks in 21 ⅔ innings over 17 appearances.
He then posted a 1.89 ERA and 1.053 WHIP with 54 strikeouts and 19 walks in 38 innings over 32 appearances with Harrisburg before ending his season with two shutout appearances with Triple-A Rochester.
Across the three levels in 2022, the undrafted Brzykcy went 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA, 1.011 WHIP, 95 strikeouts and 29 walks over 61 ⅓ innings in 51 appearances, setting himself up for another big season at Triple-A this year.
But injuries took that opportunity away from him. Brzykcy was shut down early in spring training with a forearm strain and then was revealed to need Tommy John surgery in April, ending his 2023 season before it ever started.
2024 outlook: Although Brzykcy wasn’t a serious contender to make the Opening Day roster this year, he was one of the young pitchers the Nationals were interested to watch this season. Had he continued his improbable rise through the minor league ranks, he might have been an option to make his major league debut out of the bullpen this year.
That opportunity will now have to wait until next season. His major league ETA per MLB Pipeline remains 2024 and the only good news of his Tommy John surgery was that it happened early in the year, so he should be recovered in time to return to a mound early next season.
At 6-foot-2, the right-hander releases from a high over-the-top angle to help his fastball reach the mid-to-upper-90s. Usually, the heater sits at 95-98 mph with rise that plays well at the top of the zone, making it his best pitch with a 70 grade on a 20-80 scale.
In 2022, Brzykcy had a 19.4 percent swinging-strike rate, which was best in the Nats system and ninth-best among the 905 minor league pitchers with at least 60 innings.
Brzykcy keeps hitters off-balance with a low-80s curveball and high-80s changeup, both of which he can drop well at the bottom of the zone.
Like a lot of high-heat pitchers his age, Brzykcy struggles with command, leading to a high walk rate (10.5 for his career).
Most pitchers lose some velocity following Tommy John surgery, but if Brzykcy can replace that with better command during his recovery, he could still be on track to be at least a middle-relief option as a major leaguer, if not a high-leverage closer.
Even with the injury, the Nationals selected Brzykcy’s contract last week to add him to the 40-man roster and protect him from next month's Rule 5 draft, along with fellow pitching prospects Cole Henry, DJ Herz and Mitchell Parker.