By STEVE KRAH
Three years of showing what he can do pitching in the power-packed Atlantic Coast Conference, University of Virginia right-hander Zach Messinger was selected in the 13th round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees.
“I’m extremely excited and honored to play for a team like the New York Yankees,” says Messinger, 21. “They have 27 World Series championships for a reason.”
A 2018 graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Messinger was part of a Virginia program that won 82 of 137 games during his time in Charlottesville and made it to the 2021 College World Series.
Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor, who was the pitching coach at Notre Dame for nine seasons (1995-93) under Irish head coach Paul Mainieri, has led the Cavaliers to five CWS appearances with a national title in 2015.
The 2021 season was Drew Dickinson’s second as Virginia pitching coach.
“He’s already done a phenomenal job,” says Messinger of Dickinson. “He’s one of the best college pitching coaches in the country.
“Statistically, we’re one of the best pitching staffs in the ACC because of it.”
UVA ranked in the top three in the conference in several categories in 2021, including wins, earned run average, opposing batting average, strikeouts and innings pitched.
Assistants Kevin McMullan and Matt Kirby have also helped get the most out of the Cavaliers.
“We put full trust in the coaches for their game-by-game and series-by-series preparation,” says Messinger.
In his three collegiate campaigns, Messinger made 51 mound appearances (11 starts) and was 5-3 with a 4.42 ERA. He racked up 107 strikeouts with 47 walks in 99 2/3 innings.
In 2021, he got into 28 games (24 as a reliever) and was 3-2 with a 4.89 ERA. He fanned 64 and walked 21 in 57 innings.
Does Messinger consider himself a starter or reliever?
“I can be put out there no matter what,” says Messinger. “I have the mentality, endurance and pitchability to be a starter.
“I also also have the capability to come out of the pen in high-stress situations. I can come on with short rest and deliver for the team. It comes down to where the organization thinks is the best fit for me.”
Signed on July 22, Messinger is now at the Yankees training headquarters in Tampa, Fla., getting to know personnel and the way the system works and expects to be there into the fall.
“The Yankees don’t tend to send new draft guys off to a (minor league) team,” says Messinger. “They like to have guys in-house throwing in front of coaches.
“I want to find a good base strength-wise and be where the coaches want me to be by spring training.”
The Yankees’ top four affiliates are the Low Class-A Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons, High Class-A Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades, Double-A Somerset (N.J.) Patriots and Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre (Pa.) Railriders.
Messinger employs four pitches from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot — four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and change-up.
The four-seamer sat at 93 to 95 mph and touched 97 while Messenger was at Virginia.
“The slider has more horizontal break and plays well off the fastball with the same release point,” says Messinger. “It’s late-breaking when I throw it correctly. It has become a pretty good ‘out’ pitch for me.”
Messinger calls his “12-to-6” curve “Ol’ Reliable.”
“I’ve had it since I was 15 years old,” says Messinger. “I’ve used the same grip ever since I was a kid.”
He uses a “circle” change.
Born in Evansville, Ind., Messinger moved into the Castle district while in elementary school. His family resided in Chandler, Ind., until his mother accepted a job offer and they moved to Richmond, Va., at the end of Zach’s senior year.
Dennis and Lisa Messinger have four sons — Zach and 17-year-old triplets Eli, Lucas and Tyler.
Dennis Messinger is a job site supervisor for Shurm Homes. Lisa Messinger is director of environmental sciences at Dominion Energy. He played basketball at Olney (Ill.) Central College. She was a volleyball player at the University of Evansville.
Heading into their junior year of high school, all three triplets are athletes — Eli and Lucas in basketball and baseball and Tyler in track.
Zach Messinger got his organized baseball start at what is now Evansville East Youth Baseball, but played at what is now Newburgh Junior Baseball from 8U to 11U.
Dennis Messinger coached Zach and the Ohio Valley Vipers for his son’s 12U and 13U summers.
At 14U and 15U, Zach was with the Cory Luebbheusen-coached Jasper J-Cards.
He spent two seasons with the Indiana Bulls (Dan Held at 16U and Sean Laird at 17U).
Curt Welch was Messinger’s coach for four varsity seasons at Castle.
“That man taught me how to be a man while on the baseball field,” says Messinger. “Behind my father Curt Welch is the second-most influential man in my life. He was tough on me. He saw the potential that I had. It was going to take hard work and focus.”
Messinger says Welch taught him how to treat the game and the opposition with respect and how to carry himself on and off the field.
“He taught me more than how to hit a baseball or how to pitch,” says Messinger, who played third base when not on the mound. “What stands out is the stuff that was outside the lines.”
After going 7-1 with a 1.66 ERA, Messenger was the 2018 Courier & Press All-Metro Player of the Year (he was first-team All-Metro three times) and was named to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and was a Prep Baseball Report Indiana first-team All-State selection.
Also a three-letterwinner in basketball, he was Castle’s 2018 Lonnie Fisher Male Athlete of the Year Award winner and graduated with a 3.97 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and was a four-time Scholastic “C” Academic Letter recipient.
His major at Virginia is Media Studies. He plans to complete that in the near future.
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to play professional baseball,” says Messinger. “Academics has always important to me and my family.”
In the summer of 2018, Messinger went to Virginia early to take summer classes and to train. He played for the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats in 2019, but did not play in the summers of 2020 or 2021.