While the importance of developing highly rated first-round picks cannot be overstated for a rebuilding ball club, a key factor separating successful and unsuccessful teams is their ability to routinely find and develop major league talent from more humble beginnings. In a rebuilding phase, the 2022 Nationals’ restricted payroll and depleted roster led them to rely heavily on bullpen pitchers signed from the outskirts of the league. The inability of the Nationals’ starting pitchers to consistently pitch deep into games throughout the season furthered the team’s reliance on these relievers.
As mentioned in Zander’s article this morning, the 2022 bullpen was headlined by success stories of guys who fans could easily look past before the season started. Before endearing himself to fans and teammates with his composure and clutch, earning the nickname “The Eraser”, Erasmo Ramírez was signed as a minor league free agent after being released by the Detroit Tigers due to a disappointing 2021. Despite being a former first-round pick by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013, flamethrower Hunter Harvey was claimed off of waivers from the San Francisco Giants. Prior to 2022, Harvey had thrown just under 24 career MLB innings due to seemingly perpetual injuries. With the Nationals in 2022, he pitched to the tune of an impressive 2.52 ERA over 39 innings, establishing himself as a potential key contributor in the Nats’ bullpen for years to come. Even the Nationals’ most notable reliever, Kyle Finnegan, was signed to a minor league deal during the 2019/2022 offseason after spending 6 years in the minors, never having pitched a big league inning before taking the mound in DC.
With minimal hype surrounding his rise through the minors, Nationals RHP Zach Brzykcy (pronounced Brick-see) is on track to be the next seemingly out-of-nowhere bullpen weapon and potentially future shutdown closer.
Brzykcy joined the Nationals organization in the summer of 2020, though not as a result of being selected in the annual amateur draft. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 MLB draft was shortened to just 5 rounds, a massive decrease from the 40 rounds that made up the 2019 draft. Consequently, many players who would have potentially heard their names called in the summer classic went undrafted. Brzykcy was one of these players. However, despite not being selected in the 5 official rounds, the Nationals’ interest in Brzykcy culminated in signing the then-20-year-old as an undrafted free agent for $20,000 on July 1st, 2020.
A Taylorsville, NC native, Brzykcy established himself as a reliever through his 3 seasons at Virginia Tech, where he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. He fits the profile of a power pitcher, standing at 6’2’’ and weighing around 230 pounds. Like so many of the game’s top closers, Brzykcy relies heavily on his fastball. Brzykcy throws his four-seamer with a straight over-the-top release point, giving it well above average spin efficiency and vertical break. This vertical break, coupled with his ability to throw it up to 98 mph, enables the pitch to fight gravity and have a ‘rising’ effect from a hitter’s perspective in comparison to other fastballs they might be used to seeing, leading to impressive swing and miss rates. Brzykcy utilizes his fastball by consistently throwing it at the top of the strike zone, creating a tantalizing pitch that draws swings from hitters who fall victim to its seeming gravity-defying characteristics. Brzykcy also has a curveball thrown in the low-80s, and a changeup thrown in the upper-80s. While these secondary pitches can grab strikes here and there, and most importantly keep hitters at least somewhat guessing what pitch is coming, make no mistake: Brzykcy’s success is solely a product of his first-class fastball.
Zach Brzykcy (@HbgSenators) is now 8-8 in save opportunities with Harrisburg after a 5-out appearance last night.
— Nationals Player Development (@Nats_PlayerDev) August 26, 2022
Spending the entire 2021 season in high-A Wilmington, Brzykcy showed his swing-and-miss capabilities, notching 86 strikeouts in just over 62 innings pitched. His 2021 season did leave plenty to be desired in terms of run prevention however as he owned a 5.20 ERA. However, Brzykcy took his game to a new level in 2022. He dominated in just under 22 innings in Wilmington to start the year, boasting a 1.66 ERA over these 17 games. This dominance wasn’t phased by a promotion to AA Harrisburg, where he posted a 1.89 ERA over 38 innings. Brzykcy ended the season just one step away from the majors in AAA Rochester, where he threw a couple of scoreless outings before the season wrapped up. Across 3 levels of minor league baseball in 2022, Brzykcy pitched to an utterly dominant 1.76 ERA with an eye-popping 95 strikeouts in just over 61 innings, picking up 14 saves in the process.
Unfortunately, Brzykcy suffered a forearm strain throwing live batting practice early in spring training, resulting in him having to be shut down for 2-4 weeks. With this timetable, it’s unlikely he will make any appearances in spring training games, and he will not have the chance to begin the year on the major league roster. Brzykcy will start the season in Rochester for additional development. However, after such a dominant showing in 2022, it would be foolish for the Nationals to keep him in the minor leagues much longer barring additional injury. Get ready to see Brzykcy and his fastball attacking opposing hitters in DC soon. Still just 23 years old, Brzykcy has shown all of the tools needed to be the Nationals’ closer of the future, and it seems imminent that the big league portion of his path there will start early in the 2023 season.