Standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 265 pounds, 22-year-old Kingsport first baseman Zach Mathieu is a towering sight behind the plate. Hailing from the chilly Northeastern town of Derry, New Hampshire, Mathieu was a multi-sport athlete that actually had his eye on the ice until the age of 14.
“My first love actually used to be hockey,” Mathieu said. “I eventually just decided to go with baseball because I couldn’t get rides to the hockey rink.”
How could you blame him? He was simply a product of his environment.
“Everyone wanted to be a hockey player or something else because of what the weather allowed the players to do.”
Oh, did I mention he was also named Mr. New Hampshire Basketball in 2010.
And yet, thankfully for the Mets, Mathieu focused his athleticism on baseball, using his size and his strength to make him into a valuable asset.
“I went into Franklin Pierce a very raw player with a lot of tools and potential.”
He spent his college years honing his skills in the competitive, Division II Northeast-10 Conference.
“[The NE-10] is a very competitive division. It actually has a lot of draft picks, a majority of them being pitchers.”
He was drafted by the New York Mets in the 16 round of the 2013 draft and sent to Kingsport.
“I was certainly glad to be drafted by the Mets and become part of the Mets organization.”
In his first professional year at Kingsport, Mathieu formed a close bond with his teammates as they took the team to a 40-27; good enough for first in their division.
“I remember when we played Greeneville, in that game we actually got knocked out in extra innings, and everyone was in the dugout pacing back and forth, just so into the game, hanging on to every pitch,” he said. “We just wanted to win so bad. It didn’t matter how we won or who was the hero.”
And even though the K-Mets fell short, Mathieu cherishes the experience.
“I loved every bit of it down there,” he said. “It just becomes like a tight-knit family.”
This past season, in 30 games, Mathieu hit .138/.266/.188 with 11 hits, four doubles, two RBI’s and one stolen base, in 80 at bats.
“I just felt fortunate enough to be able to play with that caliber of players and be able to improve my game and learn.”
And while he admittedly struggled at the plate, mostly due to issues in the mechanics of his swing, he is working feverishly to improve on his abilities.
“Before I was kind of just a big lumberjack who swung a bat and I actually had to learn how to hit,” he said. “Towards the end of the season I actually started to make some big adjustments in my offensive game.”
He recently returned from working at the Dominican Instructional League, working on hitting, fielding and arm precision.
Adding to a workload that has been nothing short of exhaustive.
“Working on my hands, using my backside more, keeping my front shoulder closed and just having a smoother swing,” he said. “That way I can recognize pitches.”
“I found that I’ve made some pretty big strides in my swing and I feel a lot more confident at the plate.”
An incredible athlete with an insatiable work ethic, he brings the mentality of an experienced veteran with him onto the field.
“You find yourself making adjustments on the fly and just becoming an overall better baseball player yourself, because the people around you make you better and force you to make adaptations so you can become a better player,” he continues, “Because that’s what baseball is, a game of adjustments.”
But in Mathieu’s eyes, his most important traits are ones that are not easily measured.
“My biggest tools are the intangibles like my heart and that I’m a grinder.”
His strength, drive and instinctive athleticism are what makes Mathieu such an intriguing prospect. The young power hitter still has a long road ahead of him if he wants to develop into an effective major league player, but, with traits modeled after the favorite player of his youth, Mathieu is well on his way.
“I used to be a huge Jason Varitek fan, “The Captain”, and I admired how he was a grinder and just showed up every day ready to play,” he said. “He personified the correct methods to the fans and was just someone that the kids could look up to.”
“I hope one day I can be like that.”
(Photo Credits: CollegeBaseballLineup.com, MiLB)