Zach Borenstein joined the Angels in 2011 when he was drafted in the 23rd round. After a solid season in 2012, Borenstein truly broke out in 2013, putting up some eye-popping numbers in the California league. For more on his skills, check out our prospect list, where he checked in at number 13. Today, our interview is with Josh Borenstein, Zach’s brother. We would like to thank Josh for providing very thoughtful and insightful answers. Not only did he give candid responses, but he is very knowledgeable about the game. Here is our interview:
Maniac Ball: As a family member, what is it like watching Zach develop and grow as a professional baseball player and as a person?
Josh Borenstein: “In a word: Satisfying. Zach has never taken anything for granted and works his tail off. He’s never had anything handed to him. I guess that’s part of the reason why he also has a chip on his shoulder. Part of what makes him successful is his competitive nature. He’s one of those people who probably hates to lose more than he likes to win. Growing up, he would sometimes have trouble channeling his frustration whenever something didn’t go his way. He’s come a long way in that department. His maturation as a young adult and as a young ballplayer is apparent. Baseball is a hard game mentally. Maybe the hardest. Even the best players experience failure more than they experience success. And that can wear you down over the course of a long season, but Zach has learned how to deal with it. As a person, he is highly motivated and he has a big heart. As a player, he contains a unique skill set, and he is only now starting to tap into all of his ability, which is exciting.”
MB: Describe draft day. Zach was taken in the 23rd round in 2011. Were you expecting him to be drafted around where he ended up and did you know the Angels were interested?
JB: “Draft day was a bit of a letdown, to be honest. Zach was told by the Angels to expect to be drafted within the first 10 rounds. The scout who signed him, Joel Murrie, was pushing for the Angels to take him then. For whatever reason, that didn’t transpire. The Pirates contacted my dad and told him they would consider drafting Zach in the 6th round on the condition that he put the gear on. But Zach had never caught before, and my dad didn’t want him to ruin his knees. The Marlins contacted Zach and told him they were going to take him in the 17th round, but I think he got back to them too late. I believe he was drafted much later than he should have been for a variety of reasons, chiefly that he was a product of the Midwest and he went to a smaller college in the Midwest. Even though I know the draft didn’t go the way he expected or wanted it to go, I do know Zach is grateful for the Angels giving him a shot at pro baseball.”
MB: Last year, Zach truly had a breakout season. He was one of the best hitters in all of minor league baseball. What do you think lead to his excellent 2013 season and how will he be able to maintain success?
JB: “I think 2013 was a culmination of a number of things. I know Zach credits his hitting coach at Inland Empire, Brent Del Chiaro, for a lot of his success. His manager, Bill Haselman, was also a positive influence on him. He’s had nothing but nice things to say about his other two managers in the Angels’ organization, Tyrone Boykin and Jamie Burke. Zach introduced a toe tap this year for the first time, which I think really helped his timing quite a bit. Hitting is all about timing. He’s always had excellent bat speed, so catching up to a good fastball has never really been a problem for him. Additionally, Zach adopted a quieter approach, shortened his swing, and altered his bat path. He also let the ball get deeper in the zone and trusted his hands more. Mechanically, I think he was very sound this year. In short, he refined a lot of the raw skills he has always possessed. He has a short and compact swing, which generates a lot of power. And he has power to all fields. A big reason why he hit more HRs this year was because he was able to put more backspin on the ball. In the past, he would hit the ball with a ton of topspin, so it was hard for him to elevate the ball. But he made some critical adjustments, and they obviously paid off. When pitchers started to throw him away, he wasn’t just willing to go oppo; he was looking to go oppo. I believe having that mindset is crucial for a hitter. It did wonders for Chris Davis this year on the Orioles. If a pitcher missed his spot and made a mistake, Zach usually made him pay for it. If you look at his line drive rate from 2012 versus his line drive rate from 2013, it’s like night and day. In 2012, his LD% was 10.3. In 2013, his LD% was 20.5. He actually doubled it! Because of all the things I just mentioned, he was able to square up the ball more consistently and flat out hit the ball harder in general, which led to an uptick in batting average and batting average on balls in play. Everyone knows the California League is a hitter’s league, but Zach’s production was 63% better (wRC+) than the rest of the league, which is elite. And Inland Empire’s home field, San Manuel Stadium, is actually one of the more extreme pitcher’s parks in all of the minor leagues.I think Zach’s teammates had something to do with his success, too.
Brennan Gowens, Zach Wright, and Eric Stamets were great table-setters. Alex Yarbrough hit everything in sight. Michael Snyder and Brian Hernandez provided excellent protection. Credit has to go to them. You win games as a team and you lose games as a team. And they won the league championship as a team. I’ll throw some more statistics at you. In Zach’s first 64 games, his walk-to-strikeout ratio was 16/53. His walk rate was 6.2% while his strikeout rate was 20.5%. After Zach strained his hip flexor, he began studying opposing hitters more. When he came back from his injury, his approach noticeably changed. In his last 47 games, his walk-to-strikeout ratio was 27/35. His walk rate more than doubled to 13.1% while his strikeout rate dipped to 16.9%. His line was .367/.461/.657. By then, I’d say he had the league figured out. So in summary, his technique improved, his pitch recognition improved, his approach improved, and accordingly the results improved.”
MB: Do you have a favorite memory of Zach’s playing career?
JB: “I have a few, actually. When he was a junior in high school, he hit a game-winning double against Lake Forest to win the Super Sectional and propel Buffalo Grove to State for the first time in school history. When he was a senior in high school, Buffalo Grove played three consecutive tight games to advance to and win Sectionals for the second year in a row. The first game against Lake Zurich was a slugfest, but there was one cool play that stands out to me. Zach was on first, and there was a pickoff attempt. He slid back safely, but the first baseman tagged him hard on the head. Zach told the first baseman that he was taking off on the very next pitch. He did take off, and he was safe. The second game was against Barrington, and it was a pitcher’s duel. The game wound up going all the way to the 9th inning. Zach made a pivotal play that turned the tide. Buffalo Grove was losing 1-0 in the top of the fifth or sixth inning. They were down to their last few outs. Zach was on third (I can’t remember how he got there), and there was another baserunner on first. The baserunner on first took off for second, and Zach went home on a delayed steal. He had to make sure the catcher threw past the pitcher before he broke for home. The shortstop cut the ball off and threw to home, and Zach slid in just ahead of the tag to tie the game and send it to extras. Everyone was so pumped up. That was exhilarating! The third game was against Mundelein, and that also turned out to be a pitcher’s duel. Zach drove in a run that game with a double, as I recall. But the Mundelein pitcher had been untouchable that season. He was unblemished up until that point. I believe his record was something like 13-0. The game was ultimately decided after 8 innings. Other things that stand out to me about Zach are some of the mammoth home runs I’ve seen him hit and the acrobatic plays I’ve seen him make at shortstop in high school and in the outfield in college/the minors. He plays caroms off the wall in left field pretty well. I’ve seen him barehand balls in the outfield and gun guys out at second trying to stretch singles into doubles. In 2012 at Kane County, he hit a ball in batting practice that actually went through the hitter’s eye. You read that right.”
MB: Can you share something about Zach off the field that the fans might be interested in knowing?
JB: “He can carry a tune and is eerily good at imitations. I wonder if his voice control rivals his bat control… He’s got down every coach he’s ever had, dating back to high school. Some of the imitations are hilarious. He also loves Marvel and DC superheroes, particularly Superman. He was told by the Cedar Rapids trainer that he could play in the NFL right now on special teams – and that’s without ever playing football at any level – so I’d say that speaks to the kind of athlete he is. Zach also has some power from the right side. He honestly could have been a decent right-handed hitter. Some people – when they swing from their opposite side – swing like a girl. Zach’s swing from the right side isn’t nearly the same as it is from the left side, but you can see he has some natural ability. My dad had the foresight to make him a left-handed hitter, and that’s worked out pretty well for him.”
MB: What are you most looking forward to as Zach continues his climb to the big leagues?
JB: “I’m looking forward to seeing him get opportunities, and with any luck he’ll make the most of those opportunities. I think he is the kind of player who will immediately win over fans with his style of play. He plays hard and hustles. He plays the game the right way. He also hits seeds. He displays impressive power to all fields and uses the whole field. He’ll hit some balls that will make you forget about Mark Trumbo. I’m looking forward to his MLB debut, whenever that comes. If the Angels give him a chance, I know that he’ll reward their faith in him.”