(Photo courtesy of Mike Ashmore)
At 6’5″ and 230 pounds, righty Zach McAllister is an imposing figure on the mound. Yet the big right-hander from Chillicothe, IL (just outside Peoria) is more known as a ground-ball pitcher than a strikeout artist. Drafted by the Yankees in the third round of the 2006 draft, the twenty-two year-old McAllister, the son of Arizona Diamondbacks scout Steve McAllister, has steadily progressed through the minor leagues ever year, and figures to begin 2010 in Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre’s starting rotation.
After an impressive stint in the Gulf Coast League in 2006 primarily as a reliever (5-2, 3.09 ERA in 11 games, 1 start), McAllister moved upward to Low-A Staten Island in 2007, where is struggled a bit as a starter and with his command, posting a 4-6 record with a 5.17 ERA in 16 appearances/15 starts. Yet despite walking 28 in 71 innings, he showed sufficient promise as a 19 year-old, fanning an impressive 75 in just 71 1/3 innings in Staten Island, and allowing just 3 homers. Utilizing a sinking two-seam fastball, a four-seamer, slider and change-up, McAllister moved through A-ball in 2008 primarily because he exhibited terrific control, going 14-9 with a crisp 2.09 ERA and just 21 walks in 151 combined innings between Charleston and Tampa.
This brought McAllister a promotion to AA Trenton in 2009, where McAllister went 7-5 with a 2.23 ERA, with a 1.083 WHIP, 96 K’s, and just 4 homers allowed in 22 starts and 121 innings. His excellent work earned him a start in the Eastern League All-Star game before the Thunder fans. However, he missed four weeks due to arm soreness and, according to Mike Ashmore at his very good Thunder Thoughts blog, only two of McAllister’s next six starts went five or more innings. (Whether or not this was by design as he returned from injury, I do not know.)
Interestingly, according to Ashmore, the injury and Ashmore’s coverage of it for The Hunterdon County Democrat “led to a few issues, and we didn’t particularly get along too well afterwards.” Ashmore was quick to dispel any possible controversy, however, urging readers not to infer too much; rather, he insisted that McAllister was “interesting to cover” and implied that McAllister was more shy and quiet than cantankerous. This appears to be the case, for the youngster exhibited some nervous, “aw-shucks” shyness in a YES Network “Down on the Farm” interview last season, so McAllister may just need to hone some public relations skills and become a little more comfortable dealing with the media; something perhaps to watch down the road as he develops.
Develop McAllister has indeed, earning the praise of Yankees manager Joe Girardi for his “very good sinker” and “very good command of his fastball,” as well as the distinction by Baseball America as possessing the best control among the organization’s young pitchers. He has impressed this Spring, having thrown three hitless innings with just a walk in two ST appearances.
For 2010: McAllister’s career is clearly on the rise, providing the Yankees with considerable organizational depth among the starters as a reliable strike thrower who keeps the ball in the park and induces ground balls, and a potential fill-in option should other starters get injured or pitch ineffectively. He should begin the year in SWB as part of a good rotation, having adjusted well to each level of the minors year-by-year. With a fastball in the low 90s, a sinker as his primary pitch that he routinely throws for strikes, and above-average off-speed pitches, McAllister has positioned himself as one of the organization’s premier young arms, one whom the Yankees would be wise to retain and develop. Should he continue to post the strong numbers and low ERA and BB/9 totals at SWB that he has thus far, McAllister might earn a spot start in The Bronx this year, and it wouldn’t shock me if he earned a place on their 40-man roster coming out of Spring Training.
Whether or not Yankees fans see him in The Bronx this season, expect McAllister to himself challenge for a spot at the back end of the rotation in 2011 if he again impresses in the minors this season. Based upon his consistent improvement thus far, that is far from a fanciful thought.