As a youngster in Corpus Christi, Tex., Missouri junior Rob Zastryzny and his best friend Wyatt Mathisen never had much doubt about what they wanted to be when they grew up.
“One day, we just decided that we wanted to be professional baseball players,” said Zastryzny, a left-handed pitcher who remembers being in third or fourth grade at the time.
While Mathisen’s professional dreams came true last June — Mathisen, Zastryzny’s former catcher at Calallen High School, was taken 69th overall in the 2012 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates — Zastrzyny took his biggest step toward joining his buddy on the next level on Thursday night. The 6-foot-3, 193-pound Zastryzny was taken 41st overall in the Major League Baseball draft by the Chicago Cubs.
Zastryzny, rated the No. 76 prospect in this year’s draft and the fifth-best college lefty by Baseball America, has the option of returning to Missouri for his senior year, should he fail to agree to a deal with the Cubs.
Zastryzny, however, made it pretty clear on Friday that he’s prepared to live out his dream.
“Whatever I’m worth, that’s what I want,” Zastryzny said, referring to his contract negotiations. “I don’t want a bunch of money from a team that I don’t deserve. If the Cubs treat me fairly and everything goes well, I should be signed within a week. If they do their part and we do ours, I’ll be gone and I will be a professional baseball player.
“If things go sour for some reason — and I hope it doesn’t happen — I can come back. But I hope I can move on with my career.”
Zastryzny, 21, posted a 2-9 record and 3.38 ERA this season for the Tigers, but often received little run support, as the Tigers averaged just 21/2runs per game in his starts. Those struggles were a major reason why Missouri finished 18-32 in its first year in the Southeastern Conference.
However, Zastryzny said he would not change anything about his college career, and was complimentary of MU coach Tim Jamieson, who just completed his 19th season as the Tigers’ head coach.
“He called me this morning, and said he was happy for me and thanked me,” said Zastryzny, who is currently tied for eighth all-time in school history for strikeouts (228). “He knows I won’t be back, but he’s a really good coach. I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Zastryzny credits the coaching staff for helping develop his pitching arsenal, which includes an 86-88 mph fastball with tailing action, a harder 94-95 mph fastball, a change-up (which he calls his best pitch) and a promising slider he just started working on six months ago.
“Some days it’s inconsistent, but it can be a plus pitch, and I’m going to get it there,” Zastryzny said of his slider.
Zastryzny also credited the staff for teaching him the mental side of the game, like how to channel his energy and keep his composure on the mound.
“When I came in, I didn’t know a lot about the game,” Zastryzny said. “I knew how to throw a baseball but that’s about it. At Missouri, I learned how to control my adrenaline and keep it pumping through the whole game. You’ve got to be accountable for yourself.”
Should he choose to go pro, Zastryzny would clearly be missed in Columbia, but Jamieson could have another potential ace lined up if he receives a stroke of good fortune. Hazelwood West star and Missouri signee Devin Williams was taken No. 54 overall on Thursday by the Milwaukee Brewers, but it remains unclear whether the hard-throwing right-hander, who stands 6-feet-3 and weighs 165 pounds, will sign with the Brewers or go to college.
Zastryzny said he’s spoken to Williams in the past, and would do so again if Williams sought his counsel. Zastryzny pointed to himself as proof that Williams could go to college and still achieve his big league dreams somewhere down the line.
“If he doesn’t sign and he goes to Missouri, he’ll have a good chance to develop and go high in the 2016 Draft,” Zastryzny said. “Physically, he’s a lot bigger out of high school than I was, so he might do better than I would have in the pros, but mentally I grew a lot at Mizzou, and that’s how I got where I am today. The physical part will come, but the mental side is what I needed to learn.”
Because he has, it appears Zastryzny, who grew up a Houston Astros fan, will likely have to learn an allegiance to a new professional team, which is just fine with him.
“I’ve always been a fan of the organization, so it’s the perfect spot,” Zastryzny said of the Cubs. “I honestly couldn’t be happier.”