The others agreeing to deals with the Nats were catcher Ray Torres IV, infielders Quade Tomlin, Gio Diaz and Brian Klein, right-hander Edward Ureña, outfielders Zach Cornell and Landon Dieterich, and slugging first baseman Jackson Coutts.
Brzykcy springboarded into his junior season in Blacksburg, Va., with outstanding work as a closer in the Cape Cod Summer League in 2019. He was named the relief pitcher of the year for the Falmouth Commodores.
Brzykcy, 20, led the league with seven saves and finished the regular season with a 1.80 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 10 innings pitched. The right-hander allowed just two runs on four hits.
“I am happy for him,” said Virginia Tech head baseball coach John Szefc. “He had a good summer at the Cape last year and he’s worked hard and I’m happy that he got the opportunity.”
Szefc has been coaching baseball since 1990, with head coaching stops previously at Marist and Maryland. His teams have made it to the National Collegiate Athletic Association super regionals twice and the NCAA regionals four other times. Szefc has coached the Hokies since June 2017 and has watched Brzykcy get better the past three seasons in the highly competitive Atlantic Coast Conference.
The skipper knows that experience in the Cape Cod League paid big dividends for Brzykcy this season as he built his confidence. It made him stand out in front of pro scouts.
“He’s facing good hitters (who are) swinging wood,” Szefc said of Brzykcy’s time in the Cape Cod League. “It’s arguably the highest level of summer baseball. It allows the pro guys to get a good evaluation on college players, and in this case when they didn’t really have a full spring to evaluate they fall back on last summer’s evaluation. It makes sense.”
Szefc says Brzykcy is a two-pitch pitcher similar to Sean Doolittle. He can blast in a fastball and work that off of a dipping slider to baffle hitters.
“He had a ton of velocity,” Szefc said. “He was low to mid-90’s mph. He throws a good curveball/slider, whatever you want to call it. A lot of experience, older guy. I thought he did a good job bringing some of our younger guys along, showing a good example for a lot of those young guys to follow. He has been with us for three years and it was time for him to start his pro career.”
As happened in all of college baseball, the Hokies’ season was cut short, to only 16 games. But Virginia Tech was off to a good start at 11-5, and had won 10 of their last 12 games before the shutdown. Brzykcy was also starting to get going too, but as with any pitcher, he needed games to get into a rhythm. But 2020 wasn’t going to offer that.
“We only played sixteen games and he didn’t pitch in every game,” Szefc said. “He was kind of starting to get comfortable. He would probably tell you that early on he probably wasn’t as comfortable as he would have liked to have been.
“But that’s the way it goes with baseball players. You might have a hitter that goes 1-for-10 or a starter that has three good starts and two average ones. In Zach’s case he probably was 50-50 with his outings as far as what the outcome was, but gradual progression. Some guys start quick, some guys start slow. I think he was kind of somewhere in the middle.”
Makeup is a critical asset that Nats scouts look for in the players they seek out to sign. Szefc talked about how impressed he was with Brzykcy’s ability to mentor the Hokies’ young hurlers to get them ready for the rigors of conference play.
“I thought he did a good job with that,” Szefc said. “He was in a pretty tight group of guys with Ian Seymour, Nolan Wilson and a guy like Peyton Alford, older guys that have been around for a few years with us. As hard as they worked on their own craft I think they would (also) spend time with young pitchers to try and help them get acclimated, helping them get comfortable in the working environment that we create.
“Once the season starts, try to get them to be more relaxed so when they go out on the mound they can operate. Everybody has a certain level of talent, but it’s a matter of ‘How well can you operate in game play with your talent when you are put out there? How much can you let the nerves subside so that you can do your thing?’ I think Zach and Ian were pretty good at helping our young pitchers be able to do that. You can tell by the amount of innings our younger guys accumulated. I think a fair amount of that had to do with the mentoring from some of the older players.”
The Hokies had Seymour and catcher Carson Taylor taken in the First-Year Player Draft. Along with Brzykcy agreeing to a free agent deal with the Nats, it was a pretty good run for Szefc and his coaches. But that is what he expects to happen at Virginia Tech with the talent they have built into the program.
“Our staff has worked pretty diligently the last almost three years now of bringing in ACC-caliber players that can make immediate impacts,” Szefc said. “That’s really what you are trying to do. It’s all about the level of the player. Honestly, we expected to have those guys sign pro contracts anyway. It wasn’t a surprise at all. You didn’t know how a five-round draft was going to play out, but when the dust settled that was kind of what we figured was going to happen. We will have a lot of quality draft-eligible guys next year that will have more ACC experience.
“I liken it a lot to when I was at Maryland as we collected more and more quality high-level players. We had eight guys sign in 2015. It will be similar to that. It’s coming. It’s just a matter of when, that’s all.”