On Thursday evening as I prepared to gear up for the Loons game at Dow Diamond against the Cedar Rapid Kernels of the Midwest League, I picked up MiLB.TV a bit early so I could tune in to the pre-game interview with Chris Vosters and his guest. Vosters had mentioned earlier, just before his broadcast partner Brad Tunney gave a wrap up of Wednesday’s game, who his guest would be following the previous day’s game summary.
I didn’t catch the name, or at least I didn’t quite recognize it, so I thought at first that the Loons had a new roster addition. When Vosters introduced the surprise guest as Jeremy Zoll, I knew I had heard the name before but had no idea in what context. I soon learned that Jeremy Zoll is the Senior Manager of Player Development the Dodgers, perhaps next in line behind Gabe Kapler.
Zoll spent four years at Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, New Jersey squatting behind home plate, his preferred position since he would be involved in every pitch thrown by Maroons pitchers. He spent the next four year catching for Haverford College Fords in Haverford, Pennsylvania. He hit .413 during his senior year and made first-team all-league but knew his run was pretty much over as major league teams rarely seek talent in Division III schools. “When you’re realistic with yourself,” Zoll said, “you know this is kind of the last stop.”
It seemed that his baseball career was over but talent is talent and gets scooped up in other capacities. It rarely goes to waste and very quickly Zoll went from his knees behind the plate to landing on his feet in major league baseball’s front offices.
After a brief stint as a video assistant with the Vancouver Canadians, a Class A affiliate of Toronto, he was moved into the Angel’s front office as an intern. The position was a fortuitous one as Zoll got the opportunity to display his baseball wares off the field and became much more than an intern doing mundane tasks as interns often start off doing.
“Since I was the only intern in office, I was kind of able to do a whole wealth of things, do a little bit of everything,” Zoll said. “The bulk of my responsibility was working with the advance scouting report, watching a ton of video on opponents and making sure that I knew our opponent really well.”
The rest is history as at the age of 23 he was named the new coordinator of advance scouting for the Angels. After a year in that position the Dodgers came calling and Zoll assumed his current role with the Dodgers. Interesting enough Josh Byrnes, the Dodgers Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations, is also a graduate of Haverford College, Zoll’s Alma mater.
The former catcher has a bit of a soft spot for catchers and one of the initiatives that he implemented for the Dodgers was a catcher’s camp at Camelback Ranch on January 25th through the 27th. Zoll said that one of the ideas behind the camp is to get catchers at all levels of the organization the instruction they need ahead of Spring Training, when countless pitchers need someone to throw to and time is precious.
“Catchers have a lot of responsibilities, whether it’s defensively, game-calling, managing different personalities … before you even start to think about the offensive component,” Zoll said. “As we kind of thought about it, catchers have a lot thrown on their plate at the start of Spring Training. There’s not a lot of time to have dedicated work sessions just for them, so we felt if we designed a three-day minicamp to kind of jump-start things we want to implement throughout the organization … it would be beneficial.”
During his interview with Chris Vosters on Thursday evening, Zoll touched on the catcher’s camp and also detailed some of his other responsibilities and his approach with the Dodgers.
CV: How would you explain your job and what you do?
JZ: I think we kind of created a little bit of a hybrid position. I go around to see all of our affiliates over the course of the season, maybe two, three or four times depending on what’s going on there. Help with the evaluation of our prospects . Help with player plans for developmental purposes to provide ways for them to hopefully accelerate their developmental time line. Other responsibilities include working with staff to see where I can provide some support and education for them as well as fostering a relationship between the Dodgers and the affiliate front offices at our various locations.
CV: When you are in town as the Assistant Director of Player Development are you here to work more with players or the coaching staff?
JZ: It’s a bit of a mix the way we have it set up for myself. I have been helping a decent amount with catchers in a variety of ways based on some of my prior experience. When I come in I check in with catchers and work with them on a few different things. It’s also working with the coaching staff to make sure we are all on the same page and working towards the same goals and working on the mission statement: developing a better man and better baseball players.
CV: How would you describe the difference between player development and baseball operations.
JZ: Player development for the average fan encompasses the minor league system and dealing with that it is working with how prospects get better and better and hopefully get to the major leagues one day. Baseball operations are set up much more focused on the the major league level – roster moves, roster development, salaries, contracts, arbitration. Amateur scouting and pro scouting round out a team’s baseball operations in the front office.
CV: You mentioned one of your jobs is to come up with a player plan for every individual and a time line to hopefully get them to the major leagues one day. Could you take an example, say Alex Hermeling, who is the starting pitcher tonight? Does he have a rap sheet that says this is what he is good at now, this is what he needs to improve upon or that his target date to reach the major leagues is such and such a year? How does that work?
JZ: We don’t try to really put limits on guys and tell them exactly when they need to be in a certain spot. There is certainly an understanding of players strengths and weaknesses and from there what goals should be tackled right off the bat. Whether it is pitch development, tweaks in delivery, help with control and command or for different players strength development trying to put on size and strength to throw the ball harder and hit the ball further.
CV: In relation to extended spring training before the short season starts Great Lakes is the next step up and there’s a lot of guys down there who all want to be with a full season affiliate. What do you look at in terms of assessment in bringing a guy down versus sending him back up?
JZ: Some of it comes in roster needs. For example we brought Wes Haselback over to help with pitching coverage after the double header a few days ago. Most of the guys in extended spring training are younger guys from recent drafts or coming to the States for the first time from being in our Academy in the Dominican. Extended spring training is generally dealing with a much rawer player. Finding guys that will be able to hold their own on both sides of the ball and be able to compete at the full season level. If not those guys have the opportunity to run out to Ogden for some short season ball and hopefully take the next step from there.
CV: Not to ask an abstract question but with things like Neuroscience, Sabermetrics and advanced scouting, the trends in baseball now, where do you see the game headed or tracking?
JZ: I would agree, an abstract question there. I think as we continue to learn more about the medical side and injury prevention side and with healing so unpredictable in the past with the Tommy John surgery epidemic and so on and so forth, finding better ways to predict injury and prevent injury and get guys back faster, I think that’s probably one of the other main areas you will hear commonly touched upon. I am curious to see in two, three, five years that – wow- I can’t believe we were doing things the way we were in 2016.
A special thank you to the Great Lakes Loons play-by-play announcer for forwarding the audio recording of his interview with Jeremy Zoll to me.
All Loons games are carried on ESPN 100.9 FM with Chris Vosters and his broadcast partner Brad Tunney. Home games are live on MiLB.TV.