Drafted For His Bat, Zac Veen Is Running To Colorado

Coors Field
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies didn’t draft Zac Veen ninth overall in 2020 because of his wheels. They did so because he could bash baseballs. As Eric Longenhagen wrote the following spring, the left-handed-hitting outfielder possessed “the most obvious long-term power projection” among that year’s high school draftees, adding that Veen’s “in-the-box actions are quiet and smooth up until the moment he decides to unleash hell on the baseball.” Longenhagen rated him the organization’s top prospect before he had played his first professional game.

Two seasons into his career, Veen’s still-promising power has been overshadowed by his running game. Through 232 contests, the 6-foot-4 Port Orange, Florida native has left the yard a modest 27 times and swiped an immodest 91 bases. Counting his past-season stint in the Arizona Fall League, those totals are 28 home runs and 107 stolen bases in 253 games.

I asked Veen, who came in at No. 51 on Baseball America’s newly released Top 100 list (our own rankings are forthcoming), about his Eric Young Sr.-like theft numbers prior to an AFL game last October. Was stealing a lot of bases a goal coming into the 2022 season?

“Honestly, it was just something where I learned a lot last year, and I wanted to carry that over to this year,” he told me. “A lot of it is picking the right time to run. Last year I kind of just ran whenever, and this year I really only tried to run when I needed to run.”

His success rate bears that out. After going 36-for-53 in stolen-base attempts with Low-A Fresno in 2021, he went 55-for-64 this season between High-A Spokane and Double-A Hartford. With the AFL’s Salt River Rafters, he went 16-for-18.

Veen saying that he tried to run only when he needed to run raised my eyebrows. The 21-year-old (as of December) ran 60-plus times over 126 regular-season games, and that’s exactly not picking your spots. It is out-and-out aggression. Right?

“I definitely trust what I can do on the bases,” he replied. “It’s something I’ve always taken pride in. We worked on the running game so much in high school that it is kind of ingrained in my brain now. It’s something I’ll always have, and something that I’m going to keep doing,”

The old adage “You can’t steal first base” remains undeniably true, and many minor-league speed-burners have flamed out for just that reason. Even if they do go on to reach the big leagues, a lack of on-base skills greatly limits their value (hello, Billy Hamilton). Veen isn’t expected to have that problem. While some talent evaluators are backing off on their power projections for the young outfielder, plate discipline remains a strength, and his bat-to-ball skills are considered solid. He fanned 132 times in 541 plate appearances this past season, but it’s important to note that he did so as a 20-year-old who played his final 34 games at the Double-A level. He had a 12.5% walk rate and a .368 OBP at Spokane before finishing at 11.8% and .340 after facing older and more experienced arms in his month-plus with Hartford.

Asked about the up-and-comer’s running game, Colorado GM Bill Schmidt stressed the mental component.

“Zac plays with a lot of passion,” said Schmidt, who spent decades as a scout before moving into his current role in October 2021. “What he’s shown is an aggressiveness, and not having fear. He had a successful year. [Stealing bases] is one element of his game, and we’ll see where it goes from here, how it translates.”

Veen declined to estimate how many stolen bases he might get at the big-league level. Saying that he basically just “plays the game and lets things happen,” he claimed not to know many steals he had with Salt River at the time we spoke (it was 13 in 14 attempts). But again, thievery is something Veen takes pride in, and he pairs that with good on-base skills. He won’t necessarily have to develop into a power hitter in order to contribute in Colorado.

“You don’t always have to swing it to get in scoring position,” he said. “Some days you might not even get good pitches to hit, but if you can get on base and use your legs, you can definitely benefit the team. Speed is just another tool in my toolbox.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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1 year ago

I think it would be a mistake to back off his power potential. There’s significant physical projection remaining and he’s been assigned aggressively for his age. Double-A was a major challenge, and he could easily have racked up more XBH if he’d stayed in Spokane. Looking forward to his return to Hartford.