Daniel Zamora knew early on in his young baseball career that the best path towards making it professionally would be as a pitcher. He laughs when he remembers his days as a hitter, noting that he left much to be desired in the batters box.
For Zamora, the decision to focus solely on pitching turned out to be the right choice in his career.
The 24-year-old (25 in mid-April) left-handed pitcher is one of the newest members of the New York Mets organization this winter, having been traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates – along with cash – for fan favorite and fellow lefty reliever Josh Smoker
For the Mets, adding an intriguing lefty to their organization who has multiple years of control left and could prove to be a potential LOOGY down the line was not a bad return for the 29-year-old Smoker.
Zamora attended local Stony Brook University on Long Island, pitching two seasons with the team while missing the 2014 season due to a torn labrum. With the injury, Zamora wasn’t even sure he would get drafted, though he was originally selected in the 27th-round of the 2012 Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays before committing to Stony Brook.
Zamora returned in 2015 and appeared in 15 games (13 starts), going 7-3 with a 3.00 ERA, leading the team in innings pitched (81) and strikeouts (80). The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Zamora in the 40th round, making him just the 23rd player to be drafted out of Stony Brook at the time.
He was assigned to the Short-Season A West Virginia Black Bears in 2015, where he appeared in 14 games out of the pen. In 20.1 innings, Zamora posted a 2.66 ERA with 25 strikeouts to just four walks. His 6.25 SO/BB ratio was third best on the team that season.
In 2016, Zamora spent his season in the South Atlantic League with the West Virginia Power, where he continued to showcase high strikeout totals (10.4 SO/9), however, saw a rise in his BB percentage from 4.7 in 2015 to 9.2 percent in 2016.
This past year, Zamora posted his best overall season between Bradenton (Advanced A) and Altoona (Double-A). Over 39 games, Zamora posted a career best 1.76 ERA. He spent nearly the entire season with Bradenton (minus the three innings late in the season with Altoona) posting a career best 57 percent ground ball rate, a decrease in his BB percentage from 2016 to 7.6 percent, and was utilized for multiple innings 17 out of his 37 games in the Florida State League.
Zamora had his all-around best season against left-handed hitters in 2017, posting a combined line of .232/.284/.261 with 25 strikeouts to just four walks in 75 plate appearances. Those numbers are appealing for a team in need of adding another left-hander to the pen, although, Zamora is likely slated to begin the season with Double-A Binghamton.
For now, Zamora is intent on establishing himself in the Mets’ organization, and building off a strong season in 2017, hopeful to open some eyes this spring.
I had the privilege of speaking to Zamora in early February, where we spoke of his introduction to baseball, time at Stony Brook University, and his first reactions to hearing he was traded to the Mets.
MMO: Who were some of your favorite players growing up?
Daniel: I grew up an Angels fan, I’m from Los Angeles. I always liked Francisco Rodriguez, and when I was a kid I loved Chuck Finley and Troy Percival. I was a huge Angels fan so all of my favorite players as a kid were all Angels.
MMO: Did you play any other positions growing up?
Daniel: Yeah, I’ve been a P.O. (pitcher only) since I ended little league. I’m not very good at hitting (laughs).
MMO: Who introduced you the game of baseball?
Daniel: My parents. We would just go outside and play wiffle ball. My mom and dad would take me to this high school behind my house that had a park. We’d just go hit baseballs and throw around and hang out. That was just what we did when I was a kid, we’d go to the park and play all day.
MMO: Being from California, can you talk a bit about how you ended up attending Stony Brook University on Long Island?
Daniel: My high school pitching coach was actually friends with the pitching coach at Stony Brook. They kind of connected and I got a good vibe from Coach (Mike) Marron, he’s at Old Dominion now. We just connected really well and I liked what they had and that’s why I ended up going to Stony Brook.
MMO: During your time at Stony Brook, were you able to visit Manhattan much and get a taste of the New York life?
Daniel: I didn’t explore much, I’ve been there a couple of times. But never got to truly explore and do the tourist things of it.
MMO: Prior to you being selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th-round of the 2015 MLB Draft, were you aware of any team’s interest in you?
Daniel: I honestly had no clue. I had labrum surgery after my freshmen year (of college). So I didn’t know if I was going to get drafted, I was just happy to get the opportunity to play professional baseball and take advantage of all the opportunities I’ve gotten because of it.
MMO: For fans that might not know a lot about you, can you give a brief scouting report on yourself?
Daniel: I primarily throw a fastball and slider and I have a changeup. My strength, I guess, is I have a couple of pitches I can mix and throw whenever I want. I just have a lot of confidence in what I do so that just helps me go a long way.
MMO: Your numbers against left-handed hitters this year were the best of your career so far. Were there any adjustments you made in order to have such success this season?
Daniel: I just made a couple of adjustments to what I was doing before. My fastball command wasn’t very good my first two years in pro ball so last year I got my fastball command and I was able to locate my fastball a lot better. That just gave me a lot more confidence to kind of take off and get better results and just progress as a baseball player.
MMO: Can you talk a little about what the Pirates’ pitching philosophy was while you were in their organization?
Daniel: Most of it was a mental thing. With the Pirates, we had to be very aggressive. Every pitcher has to establish their fastball but it really just comes down to being able to compete and just show up every day. That’s what the Pirates were all about, just being able to compete and show up every day and bring your best game.
MMO: What were your initial reactions when you heard you were traded to the Mets, and how did you find out the news?
Daniel: I was really thrown off actually. I got a call from Larry Broadway (Senior Director, Minor League Operations) and I was like, ‘Oh, he’s never called me before.’ So I got a call and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’
I found out and I was really thrown off at first but I’m really excited and it’s an awesome opportunity and I’m really excited to be part of the Mets organization now.
MMO: Has the team given you any indication of where you might begin the season in 2018?
Daniel: I think that’s something to be determined in spring training. I haven’t really talked too much about their plan with me, I think they’re going to introduce me to their philosophy and go from there.
MMO: Have you had the chance to speak with anyone in the Mets organization?
Daniel: Not entirely. Just for a couple of minutes, just welcoming me to the organization and telling me I’ve been traded and they’re happy to have me. But outside of that, not much.
MMO: What are some things you hope to improve upon in 2018?
Daniel: To command all my pitches. I created a good base last year with what I was doing and I’m going to try and continue to take off on that, and just try to get better and develop as a baseball player.
MMO: Thank you for your time today, Daniel. All the best in 2018!
Daniel: Thank you very much.
Follow Daniel Zamora on Twitter, @Daniel_Zamora32