Last June, the Cubs selected Zach Mort in the eighth round out of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. A 6-1 right-handed pitcher, he took some time out of his schedule to bring you a bit into the world of a pitching prospect working his way through an off-season, and professional pipeline.
I know how the premise works. You exchange a few questions, so you’re both on the same page. You have a brief introduction, and tick down the questions one-by-one. You vary from there. My interview swerved immediately as if the steering column was shot. It followed nowhere near the path it was supposed to, but the sidetracks were fun. Here is a bit of how our discussion went.
TH: Thanks for taking a few minutes for our readers. How was your workout today?
ZM: It was nice. Five hours, because that’s what it takes to be ready for the season.
TH: Any yoga?
ZM: Excuse me?
TH: When I was talking with Chris Allen, he said he was still trying to get used to yoga.
ZM: No, none for me today, but I’ve done it before. At George Mason, we had a person working with our team, and every Friday, we did yoga. As such, I’m rather used to doing it. But, no, not today.
TH: What so many people miss in the development process is the inde...
ZM: Independent development paths for each player. Yeah, what you need work on to get to the next step is what you have to work on. Regardless who or what, that’s where they start.
TH: You’re from Chesterfield, Virginia. Since most of Virginia seems to be bathed in history, is there anything special about Chesterfield?
ZM: Not so much. It was an oil mining and railroad town. Normally, I just say I’m from near Richmond. Not only does Richmond have history, it has some players that grew up there. Justin Verlander, Jackie Bradley Jr., ex-Cub Sean Marshall, and the Uptons are from nearby.
TH: Yeah, that’s kinda loaded.
ZM: And they’ll keep coming, probably. It’s good weather for the sport, much of the year. Plus, plenty of schools can offer in-state rates to get better in college.
TH: Envious. It’s about 28 outside as we’re speaking. On your Mason page, they said you enjoy playing drums and the guitar.
ZM: My mom taught me to play the piano, and I played that when I was young. I graduated to the drums, but those don’t transfer very well to college, so I took up the guitar.
TH: Nice. Learn the piano, everything else follows. If you were to see anyone live that you missed, who would it be?
ZM: Oooooooh, that’s tough. Sooooo many options. I grew up listening to quite a few things. Probably The Grateful Dead with Jerry Garcia in front, but about anything from 1969 was about perfect.
(What followed was about a 10-minute music discussion which, while very enjoyable, had nothing at all to do with baseball, or talent development.)
TH: Do you have any specific Draft Day memories?
ZM: I was expecting a call late on Day 2 (Rounds 3-10) or early on Day 3 (Rounds 11-40). My dad and I were watching, and a bit before my name was announced, my phone rang. After a quick chit-chat, my name was called. As it was Round 8, and I was a junior, the Cubs were willing to meet my number. Actually, it was rather calm. After, we all went out to dinner. It was nice to celebrate a joyous event with my family.
TH: Most players have “a coach” that got them to think they might be “that good.” Who was it for you?
ZM: My dad, without a doubt. That isn’t a knock against anyone else that’s coached me, but he pitched me BP after work every day. He was always there, and helping me with the mental angle of things.
TH: Mental skills. That wasn’t even a thing ten years ago, and thirty years ago, mental weakness was mocked.
ZM: It’s huge. Not just with the Cubs, either. It’s everywhere in the game. You need to be confident to be able to perform at your peak, and it’s tough to get there or stay there. People who run those programs are invaluable.
TH: One thing I’m thinking of, this week specifically, is about Tyler Chatwood having such a bad season on the mound. He’s very talented, but most of the discussion is how his season was bad for the Cubs. People, including me, have been a bit crass or tone-deaf as to how it sounds about a player in the team’s community having a severe slump.
ZM: Yeah, it can happen to any of us. None of us want to cost our team games.
TH: What has surprised you the most about pro ball?
ZM: Actually, the lack of sleep. Those nights you have a 7 p.m. game, and hop on the bus afterward. Then, you drive five or six hours to the next city. I wasn’t really expecting that. When you’re used to a proper night of sleep after a game, bus trips are a bit of a surprise.
TH: Are you a better player than you were in June?
ZM: Definitely. I’m quite a bit smarter and more prepared. The pros leave you less leeway for error than college does. The hitters are better, and my pitches have to be, as well. By the time I got to Eugene, I was a bit gassed from college. Many of the rest of them were the same, and we have to fight through it.
TH: And that Eugene squad...
ZM: Wasn’t that something? From not even making the post-season, to the title.
TH: With 5-7 Levi Jordan hitting cleanup.
ZM: And going yard.
TH: I’m annually amazed at how much draft quality the Cubs get from the third day. There’s so much talent in college.
ZM: All over. Everywhere.
TH: Who has come from George Mason recently?
ZM: Justin Bour. He’s the man. Also Shawn Camp and Chris Widger. Jake Kalish is in Triple-A, and there are a few others.
TH: (Looks at time.) Yikes, I’d better let you go. Thanks for taking some time, and talking to our readers.
ZM: Not a problem.
TH: And enjoy pitcher’s fielding practice with 40 guys lined up be behind the mound.
ZM: Definitely. Take care.
I imagine I’ll get a few more interviews in before the off-season ends. If you have any burning questions about the “through the pipeline” angle of pro baseball, toss the beneath. I want these to be must-reads for any baseball fan.