During the From Draft Day to the Big Leagues panel at the 2013 Cubs Convention, a fan asked the foursome of prospects seated at the dais when it was that they realized they were different; that their abilities were such that they could play baseball professionally.
For most, it was a gradual process, but 2011 fourth-round pick Tony Zych had a specific moment where he was struck by the realization that he had a bit more in his right arm than most kids. Or it would be better to say that his father was struck, by a fastball from his still not even ten year-old son that ripped through his glove.
"We were out there playing catch like we were most of the time, and he got down and I started actually pitching to him, said Zych, He had his old softball mitt, a men's league softball mitt -- and I thought it was a fine glove, pretty normal -- I don't know what happened, but it literally went right through his glove and smoked him right in the face. He was all bloody, and he took his glove off and we had to go in.
As Zych recalls, his father was less than thrilled at the time.
These days, Zychs fastball which regularly clocked in around 95 mph during last months Arizona Fall League --gets a much warmer reception. Baseball Prospectus Jason Parks called it plus-plus, and its the one huge tool in his arsenal that allowed him to blow away minor league hitters (64 strikeouts in 61.1 innings across High-A and AA in 2012) and could push Zych to Wrigley Field as soon as 2013.
That might sound like a rush, but Zych feels like hed be ready even sooner if need be.
Tomorrow, said Zych swiftly when asked when hed be ready, I'm not shy to say that because that's what I believe. Arm-wise, I think there's definitely a chance, at any time, but that's not my decision."
While the confidence is already in strong supply, there are refinements to Zychs secondary pitches that are still needed, and lapses in his control (12 walks in 24.2 innings after his mid-season promotion to AA Tennessee) that need to be eliminated before he becomes a fixture in a major league bullpen.
To make those adjustments, he leans on his minor league pitching coach, former Cub Jeff Fassero.
Fassero has helped me a lot on knowing what I was seeing in the video room, said Zych, Or when I'm throwing a pitch and think it's somewhere when it really wasn't.
Under the watchful eye of Fassero, Zychs approach to locating his pitches has gotten more precise.
"One thing I'm doing right now is focusing smaller," he said. "Not just playing catch with my partner but focusing on a button, or something else small, because if you can hit a button, you can hit a glove.
"Sometimes I land on my toe a little bit, said Zych, as he began to mime positioning his foot on the pitching rubber in the middle of the Sheraton Hotel, So I try to make sure my foot is flat."
Zych certainly had a lot more to say about his work and preparation than the pressure he feels being with his hometown team after growing up in nearby Monee, Illinois. If anything, he sees the possibility of playing in the major leagues in the same city where he attended St. Rita high school as a chance to show his appreciation to everyone who helped him along the way.
Theres not pressure, said Zych, Obviously there are a lot of people that I would want to be at his major league debut because they helped to get me here. I just hope I get the opportunity.
He already made sure to take care of the little matter of his fathers mangled glove.
"He actually tied it together with a shoestring, he didn't even get a new glove. Now I always make sure he's got another one because I still love playing catch with him."