Adjustments have Green atop many NYPL statistics

Zach Green spun around and hit his bat with the heel of his hand as he walked out of the batters’ box into foul territory along the third-base line.

The disgust emanated from his first-pitch swing at a breaking ball nowhere near the strike zone earlier this week against Batavia. The Williamsport third baseman has made a conscious effort since the first week of the season to be more selective at the plate.

The first-pitch curveball from the Muckdogs’ Helpi Reyes was one of those pitches Green had made such a point to lay off. There was nothing positive which could have come from swinging at the pitch. The quick spin toward the Batavia dugout was a way of reminding himself to be selective, especially with the bases loaded and nobody out in the first inning of the series opener.

So Green watched one breaking ball in nearly the same spot as the first one and spit on it. The same with the next pitch, another breaking ball Reyes was trying to get Green to chase. Finally, on the 2-1 pitch, Green got the fastball he was trying to be patient enough to see. He drove it up the left-center field alley, clearing the bases in what was a six-run first inning for the Crosscutters.

It’s been a season of adjustments for the third-round draft pick. First, adjusting to new swing mechanics, then adjusting to a new position at third base, then adjusting to a higher level in Williamsport, and finally adjusting to the early strikeouts which came with the start of the New York-Penn League season.

Green was crushing the baseball even during his stretch of nine strikeouts in the Crosscutters’ first nine games. But he’s hoping the focus he’s placed on laying off pitches out of the zone only further enhances the rate at which he’s hitting the baseball.

He entered Friday night’s series opener against Mahoning Valley as the NYPL’s leader in home runs (4, tied with Jamestown’s Danny Collins), RBIs with 13 (second place has nine), doubles with six, extra-base hits with 11, total bases with 32, and slugging percentage at .914. And, just to top it off, that slugging percentage is 170 points higher than second place Jimmy Bosco of State College.

Green’s name has vaulted to the top of the list of minor league players Phillies fans need to take notice of.

“You try and enjoy it. Even on a bad day you try to look for a positive out of each thing that happened in the game,” Green said. “If you beat yourself down in this game, you’ll beat yourself out of the game. So the start is good, but the better thing is that we’re winning.”

Even at just 19 years old, Green is playing in a body built for professional baseball. It was a frame he could use to play shortstop in high school, but at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, is the prototypical third baseman’s body. And through the first 10 games of the Cutters’ season, he’s showing the kind of profile which could help him profile best as a third baseman as he climbs through the organization.

It’s been a staggering start, one Green said he can enjoy a little more now that the Cutters have begun to win. They carried a four-game winning streak into Friday’s game.

His .343 batting average was eighth-best in the NYPL through 10 games and he’s done it with some very simple swing adjustments the Phillies have made since he was drafted out of Jesuit High School in Sacramento last summer. Scouting reports when he was drafted noted there were a lot of moving parts to his swing, and the biggest adjustment the Phillies made was to quiet Green’s hands in his setup.

There’s barely any movement in his hands as he tracks the pitch, and he then explodes on the baseball with a quick A-to-B swing which creates leverage and power. And during this season-opening stretch, the adjustment appears to have worked. He’s staying on top of the ball – meaning the bat doesn’t get under the ball prior to contact – and driving nearly everything he hits.

Of his first 12 hits this year, 11 are for extra bases.

“Before coming up here, I felt like sometimes I wanted that bat to get through the zone, but I was late,” Green said. “The changes have helped a lot. There’s always a little bit of tweaking, even big leaguers make tweaks in their swings every now and then. I knew it was going to happen.”

Despite the hot start to the season, Green didn’t work a walk in the first five games of the season. During that time he struck out nine times. Green admitted he was swinging at pitches he should not have being a little anxious.

He calmed down after those opening five games, though. He’s walked at least once in the last four games he’s played and he’s become more disciplined at the plate.

“I’m trying to get more walks than strikeouts, and all those strikeouts I had they were probably pitches I shouldn’t have swung at to begin with,” Green said. “The walks have been a result of me laying off pitches I was swinging at early.”

Green has continued his offensive onslaught as he continues to learn to play third base. As long as he can remember he’s been an infielder, and more specifically, a shortstop. But the move to third base has been tricky at times.

It’s a different kind of defensive game plan. There’s less moving forward and not nearly as much ground to cover. With an above average throwing arm, Green has been able to make up for any mistakes he may make while learning the position.

So far he’s showed soft hands and good range to both his left and right. The biggest adjustment has come from deciding whether to charge, or sit back on a bouncing ball.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been a natural move, it’s just different,” Green said. “My first step was a big issue for me. I think I had some getting used to the position as far as reactions with my hands. It’s just different than shortstop. The reads off the ball, that’s your moneymaker, that and moving your feet. The more balls I see, the better I’ll get.

“It’s just a different animal.”