Zach Neto has been one of the hottest hitting college players in the country and the Javier Baez signing is aging like spoiled milk. Will this be the year the Detroit Tigers take a shortstop with their top pick?
Heading into this season, the Detroit Tigers weren’t likely to be thinking about drafting a shortstop like Zach Neto in this year’s MLB draft. After all, the club had just inked former all-star and MVP runner-up Javier Baez to a 6-year/$140 million deal to anchor the middle of the Detroit Tigers infield.
In fact, shortstop was so far from their worries that they passed up on the best position player available in last year’s draft–Marcelo Mayer–in favor of betting on the immense talent of high school right-handed pitcher Jackson Jobe.
Fast forward to today, Javier Baez is batting a whopping .192 with an OPS of .526, the Detroit Tigers sit in fourth place in the American League Central with a record of 25-40, and Marcelo Mayer is batting .295 with a slash line of .376/.516/.892 for the High A Salem Red Sox at the ripe age of 19.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they may get a nice mulligan if they select Zach Neto with the 12th overall pick in July.
Zach Neto is fresh off putting on the finishing touches to one of college baseball’s most prolific performances at the plate this year.
The starting shortstop for the Campbell Camels, Neto finished the year batting a crisp .407, good for sixth-best in the country among DI baseball players, while slashing .514/.769/1.283 with 15 HRs, 23 doubles, 50 RBIs and 19 stolen bases across 53 games played.
In his his two years of service with the Camels, Neto has appeared at every infield position except for catcher (he has a 5-0 record with a 3.25 ERA and 27 Ks across 27.2 innings pitched), but has seen most of his playing time at shortstop and second base.
At the end of his redshirt freshman campaign, Neto earned multiple second and third team all-America honors in addition to being voted Big South Conference Player of the Year after hitting .405 with 12 HRs and 58 RBIs and a slash line of .488/.746/1.234.
Neto is also looking to build on one notable former Campbell baseball player’s success. While Campbell is a smaller time university in the college baseball landscape, they aren’t completely foreign to producing high end baseball talent. Baltimore Orioles’ all-star center fielder and Silver Slugger, Cedric Mullins, is also a product of the Campbell Camels.
Neto is a well-rounded ballplayer with multiple tools both in the batter’s box and out in the field. His swing is far from quick and compact, as he has multiple mechanisms at work, but it works well for him. Take a look at a few of his swings when Campbell played Liberty University earlier this year:
Neto does a great job of being aggressive through the strike zone, using extension in his arms and fluidity in his hips to transition the bat through the zone and catch the baseball out in front of the plate, which led to many of the home runs and extra base hits he has hit over the last two seasons for the Campbell Camels. Here’s what Prospects Live had to say about Zach Neto as a player:
"“Neto really exudes confidence and athleticism at the plate. He’s an aggressive hitter who extends really well and has a knack for catching the ball out in front, tapping into a lot of his raw power. He’s a good hitter with a track record of success at school and on the cape as well. It’s a rhythmic swing that relies on timing, though Neto has shown real feel for putting his body in a position to damage the baseball. Some of the quirks in his setup and swing have been compared to Javier Baez. Really good feel for tempo on the dirt with soft hands and body control. Arm might only be average, but Neto can make throws from any angle. Whether he ends up at second base, shortstop or anywhere else on the diamond, Neto has a pretty complete profile that will appeal to teams.”"
Now some of you may have just vomited a little bit in your mouth hearing a Javier Baez comp to Neto, but rest assured–while Neto has similar swing mechanics to Baez–he isn’t the same free swinger El Mago is. In his sophomore season at Campbell, Neto walked a little more than twice as many times as he struck out (39 walks to 19 strikeouts).
Will those numbers trend in the opposite direction as Neto faces better pitching at each level? Yes, as it normally does for any hitter transitioning from college to the pros, but his plate discipline in college is a testament to the idea he likely won’t ever become a guy that can’t lay off a slider low and away.
The knocks on Neto are that he played at a smaller school and there’s debate about which of his defensive traits teeter more toward average.
Some of the smaller college concerns were alleviated by Neto’s performance in the Cape Cod League, where he hit .304 with 3 HRs and 10 RBIs in 16 games, slashing a line of .439/.587/1.026 while walking as many times as he struck out (8-8) in 2021.
While Prospects Live views Neto’s glove and body control as plus-traits and his arm as average, MLB Pipeline feels the opposite. Scouts with MLB view he may have an average glove with an above average arm that will allow him to make most throws from anywhere on the diamond. Here’s what MLB Pipeline had to say about Neto in the field:
"“He has quick hands and feet and his instincts may help him be an average defender at shortstop, though his range may be better suited for second base at the next level. His arm isn’t a question — he has hit 93 mph as a reliever for the Fighting Camels — and he started games at all four infield positions last season.”"
Fit with Detroit Tigers
If Zach Neto is drafted by the Detroit Tigers and all of the baseball gods’ dominos fall in favor of him in their uniform, he’ll be what everyone expected out of Javier Baez–a cornerstone middle infielder who gives you 20+ HRs a year and plays above average defense up the middle of the diamond.
Regardless of whether or not his talent comes to fruition at the big league level, Neto also plays with a ton of energy and enthusiasm, and could be as much of a spark plug for the Detroit Tigers as he could be a guy that slots into the 2, 5 or 6 holes in the lineup sometime in the future.
Based on how the Detroit Tigers are playing right now (They currently rank dead last in OBP, SLG and OPS in MLB), they sure could use an invigorating presence like Zach Neto’s in the lineup and in the clubhouse someday, and that may be just enough for them to take him with the 12th overall pick this July.