Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Javier Baez have dominated the talk of the Cubs’ farm system lately, but there’s a new group of talent working their way through the minors. One of the names you’ll be hearing a lot of is outfielder Mark Zagunis, who is currently stationed on the Cubs’s high-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
Zagunis, a native of southern New Jersey, was selected by the Cubs in the third round of the 2014 MLB draft as a catcher out of Virginia Tech.
The 22-year-old played basketball and football in addition to baseball during his high school days, but he knew baseball was the right choice, especially at Virginia Tech.
“I committed pretty early to Virginia Tech,” Zagunis said in an interview last week in Frederick, Md. “I just loved the school when I went up there and fell in love with it and just wanted to continue playing baseball.”
Virginia Tech ended up being a great choice for Zagunis, where he was a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference catcher. His most memorable moment playing Hokie baseball was hitting a walk-off home run in the ACC Tournament against Florida State in 2013.
“It was a great feeling,” Zagunis recalled. “It was definitely my best moment in college baseball.”
It’s one thing to have a college interested in you, but it’s something else to catch the attention of a baseball team like the Cubs . Zagunis was excited to receive the call from the Cubs a year later, informing him that he had been selected in the third round of the draft.
“I knew the Cubs were one of the higher teams, and they liked me a good amount,” he remembered.
After being recruited by the Northsiders, the catcher was moved to the outfield. Some might find that difficult or intimidating, but not Zagunis, who felt he was sought after more for his offense than his defense.
“Growing up, I always played multiple positions; [the Cubs] saw me as a good athlete and liked my bat,” he explained.
As any team player who want to make their way through the ranks understands, sometimes you have to do what’s best for the franchise as a whole. Zagunis sees the big picture. “I miss catching, but I just want to do what’s best for the organization.”
There are plenty of catchers in the Cubs organization, such a Kyle Schwarber, whom Zagunis described as “unbelievable,” but the versatility of this young catcher-turned-outfielder has shown just how valuable he really is.
Zagunis may have been comfortable behind the plate, but the move to the outfield hasn’t affected his approach to hitting during his brief, well-traveled time in the minors. In 2014 he posted a .299 batting average over 41 games with Boise, a .280 batting average over 14 games with Kane County and currently has a .303 batting average over 57 games with Myrtle Beach in 2015.
The recently named Carolina League All-Star also possesses patience at the plate, a Cubs Way characteristic, drawing 43 walks in 57 games so far this season.
“I try to get a good pitch to hit early in the count,” he explained. “I have enough confidence in myself that I can hit with two strikes, so I just try to stay patient and effectively aggressive when I get ahead in the counts.”
Sure, the outfielder draws a lot of walks, but he also knows how to do some damage with the bat. During his short stay with the Boise Cubs, Zagunis hit for the cycle last July, a feat he declared as “awesome.”
“I got a triple my first at bat and then a home run, so I got the two hardest ones out of the way,” he said. “It’s been my only [cycle] ever, so it was definitely a cool moment.”
There will be plenty more “cool moments” for Zagunis as he makes his way through one of baseball’s most talked about organizations.
“It’s definitely really awesome to be around players like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and a lot of really good players at every level,” he said. “It makes you want to work hard every day to achieve your goal to make it [to the majors] one day.”
If Zagunis keeps up the hard work, it may just be a matter of time before we see him taking the field with Bryant, Russell and the rest of the Cubs one day.
“All I can do is go to work every day, try my best and keep working hard.”