“I just want to be able to go out and put a good performance on the field every single day," Zehner said.
The New York Yankees selected him with the 543rd overall pick in the 2015 MLB Entry Draft. He was selected after playing two years at California Polytechnic State University. While playing for the Mustangs, he held a .309 batting average and hit 12 home runs in 102 games.
Immediately assigned to Staten Island upon his 18th round selection that year, he showed power along with versatility at the plate, cracking five home runs and stealing 12 stolen bases and defensively he really showed excellent prowess in the outfield, recording 88 putouts and only allowing four errors in 59 games in left field.
His entire game was polished enough that the Yankees believed he was capable of skipping a level last year and he began the 2016 season, his first full season, in high-A Tampa instead. He doesn't let the pressure of making it out of the minor league’s affect him. Instead, he dials in on what he needs to improve on to reach that goal.
“I don't worry about where I'm going to be,” he said. “I just focus on the day at hand and focus on what I need to do to get better.”
The 24-year-old California native has shined thus far in his ascension toward the Major League level. He has made a steady progression through the Yankees minor league teams and gained promotions from the start of his professional career in 2015.
He had one of the more underrated seasons in high-A Tampa last year, batting .278 with a team-leading 68 walks and was among the organizational leaders in doubles too, clubbing 24 in the Florida State League.
“It was my first full season of professional baseball and it was good to be with the same coaching staff for the whole year," Zehner said. "We had a good relationship between each other. It was good to be comfortable in one spot and work on the things I needed to work on to get better.”
Trenton hitting coach Tommy Slater, who was in fact Zehner’s hitting coach in Tampa last season too, has high praise for him at the plate but more so the meticulous nature overall.
“I think Zach has really studied the game. He spends a lot of time watching Major League hitters on video and watches his own video and he's just got great work ethic,” he said. “He's done a great job of self improvement.
“He is really self aware as a ball player, he understands the things he needs to continue to work on and things he needs to do to have success. Being fortunate enough to be around him for the last year and a half has been fun to watch."
Even though Zehner's physical tools might not jump off the page it is difficult for those entrusted with his development to not envision him making a big league splash someday.
“He's the hardest worker we got," Trenton manager Bobby Mitchell said. "He's determined, he's driven, he wants to do well. Zach understands what you try and teach him and able to apply, which is huge for his development. The sky's the limit for him.”
Additionally Mitchell, spoke on the fundamentals that the Thunder coaching staff have been trying to work on with Zehner from Spring Training until now.
“We are trying to work on a few footwork things with him defensively, and he picked it up real quick in spring training,”he said. “He has a tendency to play deep and we are trying to get him to play a little shallower, so he has a chance to catch some of the balls in front him. It's a mindset he is trying to acquire and he's coming along really well with it.”
In 33 games this season with Double-A Trenton, the right-handed hitting is batting a [current] career high .283 with three triples and eleven runs batted in. In a 10 game stretch from May 1 to May 10, Zehner drove in eight of those eleven runs during that time frame and he's beginning to earn the reputation as one of the better clutch hitters around.
“I think he is one of our best with two outs and men on base and in scoring position," Mitchell said. "He's been able to come up with huge hits for us. He's gaining more confidence all the time at this level.
“I hadn't seen him much offensively before this but he's been outstanding for us so far this year and especially hitting line drives up the middle and the other way, which is important for a hitter to think the other way and sometimes pull a ball. That approach is working for him really well now.”
Zehner has analyzed his mistakes from last season and works hard to not create those same mistakes again. He focused on the fundamentals of his game during the offseason and to stick with that game plan.
“Offensively, I want to be simple, trying to create an approach and a swing where I could repeat it day in and day out and not have to worry about my mechanics when it comes to the season,” he said. “Last year I think I struggled with that a little bit, I made a lot of changes on the fly during the season and I want to minimize that.
“Our lineup is stacked one through nine. You're gonna have a lot of guys on base with this team, everyone is gonna be hitting. You're gonna have guys in scoring position and that's tough on the pitcher. The pitchers has to make more stressful pitches, and that leads to more success.”