Stewart drafted by Reds

By Andy Newberry
Friday, June 6, 2008

Zach Stewart grew up as an athlete with the pressure of a relay race, a big third down in a playoff football game or the need to go seven innings in a playoff baseball game.

And while the former Holliday High School star’s role became much more specialized as a relief pitcher at Texas Tech this year, the same desire to compete at crunch time and a strong right arm made him the third-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday.

Stewart went with the 84th pick overall in the first-year player draft by Major League Baseball.

“It was crazy, I was on the phone with the Rockies and Royals at the time and I heard my named called,” Stewart said of the draft-day drama. “I’m pretty much glad to know my fate. I’ve been thinking about it for months now and wondering where I’ll be.”

Stewart went 3-2 with a 4.98 ERA with Texas Tech this season and led the Red Raiders with three saves. But his velocity was improved -- Stewart said it was usually 92-96 mph on his fastball -- and he struck out 43 batters in 47 innings.

And in recent years, college closers have made a quicker transition to professional baseball and several were taken in the early rounds on Thursday.

“I guess that’s the way the game is going,” Stewart said. “The closing role is becoming a big role. They are going for guys who have done it in college.

“I like it a lot. It prepared me a lot playing in the Big 12 and going against good hitters. I had a velocity jump this year and my slider got a lot better. The coaches at Tech helped me with that.”

Stewart also credits the “coach (Terry) Wolf’s gruesome practices are what got me ready for junior college ball (North Central Texas), and I’m sure it’ll help me as I get into minor league baseball and hopefully major league baseball. He gets guys prepared.”

Wolf said the overall “athleticism” of Stewart stood out and probably helped his development on the mound, too.

“He was a starting quarterback on a quarterfinalist in football, he ran track and he pitched in the state tournament all four years,” Wolf said. “He was fearless. All that competition helped him know how to compete with that effort.”

The scouting report says that Stewart “has a closer mentality” and that he has “two plus power pitchers (fastball and slider) and command of both of them. He has the right demeanor to be a closer.”

Stewart said he had heard he could go anywhere from late first round to about where he was picked. He and his family were very interested viewers on the internet broadcast.

“I’m real excited about it,” Stewart said. “Before this year I never thought I would go in the first three rounds, maybe not the first 20 rounds.”