At the beginning of the month, junior University of Kentucky pitcher and Seymour alumnus Zack Brown was projected by MLB.com as the 25th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft.
For many, those prospects would inflate confidence and enlist a sense of entitlement.
That’s not the case for Brown, who recently spent his winter break helping elementary and middle school students from Seymour at a pitching clinic in the high school auxiliary gym.
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He’s a Seymour guy — Class of 2013 — who loves his hometown and gives credit to those who helped him from the beginning.
“I didn’t know it was even coming out that day,” Brown said of the ranking. “I don’t pay attention to that stuff too much. I’m going to take it with a grain of salt. I have an entire season to pitch, and so does everyone else. It’s cool to be there, but I want to go out with a chip on my shoulder and show that I’m as good as they might rank me.”
As a sophomore, Brown acted as the Wildcats’ No. 1 starter on Friday nights.
Brown pitched ahead of eventual Twins second-rounder Kyle Cody, who was taken in the 2015 draft.
Since high school, Brown’s sinking fastball has climbed from the high 80s to the low 90s.
His fastball now consistently hits the mid-90s.
Brown said two of his biggest highlights this past season were a shutout game against Missouri — in 100 pitches — and seven scoreless innings against No. 5 Florida.
“It was crazy. I didn’t expect a starting role coming in,” Brown said. “By the third week, I was pitching on Friday nights, and it turned into that the rest of the year. It was really fun. The team is great. They knew that I would give them my best every time I went out there, and that was huge for my confidence. I know they will give it their all if I do, too.
“I didn’t ever expect to be in this position. I’ve gotten a lot better, and playing those guys (in the SEC) means I have the same opportunity they do of making it to the next level.”
Owls varsity coach Jeremy Richey stays in close contact with his former pitcher and has diligently followed his ace’s career.
“It has been really exciting,” Richey said. “We want to make kids better and send them to college and get to the next phase of their career. I don’t think it has surprised any of us because of his work ethic. It’s fun to sit back and watch it.
“I will sit at home watching against him teams like Florida and LSU. It can be kind of surreal, but it’s just Zack. What I appreciate the most is that within 45 minutes of a game, we will talk about how he threw. It’s really cool to know that he thinks enough of us to communicate weekly.”
Richey said Brown stayed grounded despite all of the successes.
“To me, he’s still the guy who comes over and plays with my kids,” Richey said. “He’s the most level-headed kid that I’ve ever been around that is playing at his level. Around Thanksgiving, he shot me a text and asked if I was going to a girls basketball game. I’m most proud of how he conducts himself. He hasn’t changed with all of the success he’s had and what could be ahead in the future.”
Following his senior year at Seymour, Brown was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 38th round of the 2013 MLB draft.
Brown elected to play at UK, which in turn would not allow him to re-enter the draft until he had competed at the collegiate level for three years.
If he chooses to go undrafted this June, he will pitch one more year before giving the MLB another try.
Brown said even if he makes it to the MLB, he will still get his college degree in accounting.
“It is something I value a lot. Academics has always been important to me,” Brown said. “It’s something you need to have. I would hate to play baseball and never get my degree, but that’s not the type of person I am. I’m going to go get it whether I’m drafted or not.”
While he may be focused on his upcoming season with the Wildcats, Brown still has tall dreams of pitching professionally.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that (the MLB) is the goal,” Brown said. “It’s been the goal since I picked up a baseball. I’m looking forward to any opportunities.”