Yankees’ under-the-radar prospect thriving in Double-A

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A high school senior with no scholarship offers is not supposed to play professional baseball.

Just like an 18th-round draft pick is not supposed to rise up the minor league ranks, getting named to an All-Star Game.

And true to form, Zack Zehner wasn’t just a participant — he went home as the MVP.

You will not find Zehner, an outfielder out of San Diego, on any top prospects lists, and you won’t find him wallowing about where he fits in the Yankees’ future. The 24-year-old was drafted in 2015 as an afterthought out of California Polytechnic State — where he wound up after starring at Santa Barbara City College. He does not fit the mold of the hyped talent surrounding him in the minors, with no standout ability apart from perhaps a batter’s eye the Yankees value.

So when you’re Zack Zehner of Double-A Trenton and you get the chance to play in the Eastern League All-Star Game, you take it.

“I found out a couple days before,” Zehner said over the phone. “I was a late addition to the squad. … Manager brought me in and said, ‘Congrats, you’re an All-Star.’ I said, ‘Right on.’ ”

And when you win MVP of that All-Star Game, you appreciate it.

“It’s nice to win it,” Zehner said after going 2-for-2 with two RBIs Wednesday, including the runs that would put his side up for good. “I was glad we won the game. We had a really good team. … Personal accolades are good, but there’s a lot of good guys that played well.”

Zehner is not comfortable talking about himself, deflecting often. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder has made first a college then a minor league career out of letting his bat lead the way. In two and a half seasons in the Yankees’ system, he has climbed up to Double-A, where he slashed .281/.387/.418 entering Friday. His power is lacking, especially for a corner outfielder, with five home runs this season.

“My approach at the plate is what I pride myself in,” Zehner said. “I like staying middle of the field. I like working walks. I want to be a tough at-bat every time out there.”

Zehner’s future is decidedly murky. In a system that already has spun a few outfielders to the majors this year, he knows the competition is strong — which he enjoys.

“The talent around the Yankees farm system is incredible,” Zehner said. “We’re one of the best minor league organizations out there. It’s totally motivation. You play with these guys day in and day out. Everyone’s really good. … That just pushes you to be better. And that’s the culture right now — we’re all pushing each other to be better. It’s bringing the level of play up at every minor league team we have.”



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