Ask Zac Veen, one of the top prospects in the 2020 MLB Draft, whether he can play center field, and the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Veen will answer in the affirmative.
With one exception.
“One big thing that I’ve heard a lot from a lot of people is that I can’t stick in center field, I’m not fast enough to stay out there, but that comes [with] being counted out and not believed in,” Veen said on Glenn Clark Radio June 4. “That fuels me more than anything. Austin’s done a great job working with me defensively. Hopefully [I’ll] be able to stay in center field, but obviously not better than him so he can stay there over me.”
The Austin that Veen referred to is Austin Hays, who was set to be the Orioles’ everyday center fielder in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic halted the season. And the hint Veen dropped about moving to a corner for Hays refers to the possibility that the Orioles could take him in the draft June 10. In a recent mock draft, Baseball America predicted Baltimore would take Veen with the No. 2 pick.
Veen, 18, and Hays, 24, went to Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange, Fla., and both were coached by Johnny Goodrich. Veen said he got to know Hays through Goodrich, and Hays then took Veen under his wing and coached him up on the physical and mental sides of the game.
Veen feels his mentality is similar to Hays’ in that they both love to prove naysayers wrong. Hays did just that last September, when he hit .309/.373/.574 with four home runs in 75 plate appearances after struggling with injuries since his call-up to the big leagues in 2017. He wasn’t bad defensively, either.
“I love seeing the people that I train with having success. I’m just really happy for him. Nobody really sees the time and effort that goes into the training and preparing for the season,” Veen said of Hays. “He’s had a couple injuries in his career. They’re obviously kind of heartbreaking after seeing how much work he puts in in the offseason. He really wants to be great. I think this past season he took off and he deserves every bit of it.”
If the 2020 MLB season gets going, Hays will have a chance to establish himself as part of the long-term solution in Baltimore, as will other young players such as catcher Pedro Severino and outfielder Anthony Santander. And the player who the Orioles take with the No. 2 pick will have a chance to be one of the driving forces behind the rebuild along with catcher Adley Rutschman and other prospects.
What would Veen think about teaming up with Hays in the outfield in Baltimore?
“We talk about it all the time, how cool it’d be to play with each other one day,” Veen said. “I think it’d definitely be a dream come true really, I guess, going all the way back to sixth, seventh grade, just seeing him play in college and then pro ball, just kind of following his story. … To go play with one of your best buddies out there every single day and competing and the guy you grind with every day would definitely be something awesome to do.”
But if Veen isn’t drafted by the Orioles, he doesn’t figure to have to wait long to hear his name called. A left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, Veen plays first base and center field. The Florida commit shined during the summer showcase circuit in 2019 and had a chance to play in front of scouts in March before his season was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With a projectable build, left-handed swing, big raw power and the ability to play center, Veen is already earning lofty comparisons to reigning National League MVP Cody Bellinger. Who are some of the players Veen models his game after?
“I love watching guys like Bellinger and [Christian] Yelich – guys who are the best in their parts of the game, whether it’s Rickey Henderson, watching him steal bases, or watching Adam Jones play center field,” Veen said. “I guess just guys that are good at their craft and what they specialize in. Those are the guys I try to replicate in certain areas of the game.”
Veen explained that when he was in sixth grade, he started riding his bike to Spruce Creek to watch the baseball team work out so he could take in as much as possible. His goal as a sixth-grader was to start as a freshman for Spruce Creek — something he eventually achieved, teaching him the value of a good work ethic.
Now, he’s one of the top prospects in the 2020 draft, and his goals keep on getting bigger. Excelling in pro ball en route to the big leagues is on tap next — assuming he signs with whatever team drafts him instead of reporting to Gainesville, Fla.
“I kind of have a bunch of different benchmarks for myself and different goals. When I achieve one of them, I’m also chasing the next thing,” Veen said. “I guess I’m never satisfied with just what I’ve done so far. I’m always pushing to be better. There is times where I reflect back and I kind of see, ‘Man, this is what I’ve done so far.’ It really is special to think about what I’ve done, but at the end of the day this isn’t the player I want to be. I want to be even better.”
And if the Orioles draft Veen, what kind of player are they getting?
“I think I’m a once-in-a-generation type player,” Veen said. “I think I’m one of the most well-rounded players in this draft. They’re going to get the hardest worker in this draft. I take pride in not letting anybody outwork me.”
For more from Veen, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Perfect Game