Ryan Zink | RHP
Zink grew up in the baseball … ahem … hotbed of Madison, WI, where he attended LaFollette High School. A standout for the Lancers, he was named to the All-City First Team and was an honorable mention for the All-Conference team as a sophomore, when he led the school to the City Championship. As a junior Zink repeated as a first team All-City player, adding All-Conference First Team and All-District Second Team honors to his resume. He was at his best when needed most, striking out eleven batters and allowing just three hits in a ten inning outing in the Regional Finals.
If there was any doubt that he was already the best baseball player in school history, Zink cemented that status at LaFollette with a monster senior season: 6-1, 0.57 ERA on the mound, .377 batting avg, five homers, 37 RBI at the plate. He was again named to the All-City and All-Conference first teams, and added All-District and All-State honors for good measure. He was also named 2003 Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year, MVP of the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Game, as well as city, conference, district and state Player of the Year. Yeah, he’s got some hardware for the ol’ mantle.
Baseball America rated Zink the best prospect in the state for the 2003 Draft, projecting him as top ten rounds pick. With a strong commitment and full ride to the University of Illinois-Chicago in his pocket, Zink lasted until the 47th round (1,377th overall) when his hometown Brewers selected him in recognition of his great high school career. He’s the only player in school history to be drafted, but he didn’t sign and headed to UIC.
The best pitcher on the Flames’ staff the day he set foot on campus, Zink dominated as a true freshman, finishing 9-3, 2.07 ERA, 0.95 WHIP with 92 strikeouts in 95.2 IP. He led the Horizon League in innings thanks to six complete games (in eleven starts). Zink struck out thirteen batters in his first career start on March 7th, then threw the tenth no-hitter in school history on May 19th, striking out ten Youngstown State Penguins in a 7-0 rout. He was named to the All-Horizon League First Team, Horizon League All-Newcomer Team, and Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American. He pitched for the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League over the summer.
Zink’s sophomore year wasn’t as statistically dominant as his freshman effort, but he still led the team with 76 strikeouts and set a single-season school record with 119 IP. He finished with an 8-6 record, 3.78 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, and was named to the All-Horizon League Second Team. Named to the League Championship All-Tournament Team and MVP of the League Championship, Zink led the Flames to the league crown with three innings of one hit relief to earn the save over UW-Milwaukee in the title game. UIC lost to Joba Chamberlain and Nebraska then Andrew Brackman and NC State to end their season in the Regionals. You can’t make this stuff up, click the links if you don’t believe those were the two opposing starters. Small world, huh?
Expected to be a top three rounds draft pick prior to his junior year, Zink never got a chance to pitch in a game because he underwent Tommy John surgery in March. He took a medical redshirt and went untouched in the ’06 Draft.
Coming back strong – and early – from TJ, Zink returned to the mound in mid-February and managed to pitch just about a full season for the Flames as a redshirt junior in 2007. He went 7-3, 4.24 ERA, 1.20 WHIP with 42 strikeouts in 70 IP while battling the typical problems associated with returning from ligament replacement surgery. He saved his best for last, one hitting 16th ranked Long Beach State and Evan Longoria over eight innings in his final start for the first NCAA postseason win in school history. Zink was named to the All-Regional and Horizon League All-Tournament Teams, and finished his career second in school history in wins (24) and strikeouts (203) while placing fifth in ERA (3.32). He returned to his hometown Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League briefly over the summer.
Rated the 12th best draft prospect in the state by Baseball America, Zink lasted until the 17th round of the ’07 draft, when the Yanks selected him 544th overall. He signed quickly for a well-above slot $123,000 bonus and was assigned to Short Season Staten Island.
Zink worked mostly out of Staten Island’s bullpen after signing, although he did make five spot starts for the Baby Bombers. He worked 47.1 IP to the tune of a 3.23 ERA & 1.32 WHIP, leading the team with six wins. All told, Zink threw over 110 IP on the year despite having TJ just eleven months prior.
Assigned to Low-A Charleston in 2008, Zink worked out of the bullpen before moving to the rotation late in the year when promotions and injuries thinned the staff. He finished the year 3-2, 2.42 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 25 appearances, and was dynamite in his four starts: 19 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 15 K. Zink ate up righthanders, holding them to a .177 batting avg against.
Zink’s bread and butter is a heavy 89-91 mph sinker that he uses to pound the bottom third of the zone. The pitch is good enough that he can throw it 75-80% of the time and still succeed. He backs the sinker up with two solid secondary pitches: a slider and changeup. All of Zink’s pitches play up because of his strong command and outstanding control (2.15 BBper9 in college, 2.43 in ’08).
With a frame that is a scout’s dream, Zink stands 6’5″ and carries 210 lbs on his wide shoulders. He gained about 25 lbs during TJ rehab, and the extra weight hurt him mechanically when he returned, and also sapped some stamina. He worked hard in the offseason and lost the extra weight. A dogged competitor, Zink wants the ball every day and with the game on the line. Other than elbow surgery, he’s never had any injury problems.
Ready for High-A Tampa, Zink might get lost in the rotation crunch and start the year working out of the bullpen. However because he finished the year on such a high note as a starter, Zink may get a chance to hold down a rotation spot in Tampa if the Yanks send Zack McAllister to Double-A Trenton to start the year. If he has a strong second half, he should get a bump to Trenton.
I touted Zink as a very nice pick after the ’07 draft (forgive the eighteen month old typo), and have been plugging him as a sleeper since then. I’m a big fan; guys with lively sinkers and an 80 compete tool often make it too the bigs, at least as relievers. His ceiling isn’t high (back-end starter if it all works out), and he’ll turn 23 right around Opening Day, but Zink is a guy to keep an eye on next year. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so at the very least he should force the Yanks to think long and hard about leaving him exposed. My bad, he’s not R5 eligible until after 2010.