Sometimes when I write, I like to listen to music. Typically I find a country playlist to help me get in the zone, but every once in a while I find one song that sets the perfect tone for my project. Today was one of those cases. The song was “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds.
One of the interesting battles to watch heading into spring figured to be the competition for Opening Day utility man. Shawn O’Malley, a fan and personal favorite, was set to battle with the likes of Taylor Motter and Mike Freeman for a spot on the 25-man roster. Fast forward through eight games, and the competition looks entirely different. Freeman was recently DFA’d, leaving reason to doubt he’s much of a factor to crack the Opening Day roster. Meanwhile, an unheralded candidate in Zach Shank has stepped forth as a legitimate factor. Don’t you forget about him.
A 28th round draft choice from Marist College in New York, Shank is no stranger to being overlooked or unnoticed. His impressive production, however, finally earned him recognition last year, when he was named the Alvin Davis “Mr. Mariner” Award recipient for his willingness to do whatever it takes to help out the organization.
Over the course of his minor league career, Shank has taken whatever has come his way in stride, consistently improving along the way. For instance, the utility man from Lititz, Pennsylvania expected to start the 2015 campaign in high-A, but instead began with the Jackson Generals. A tough start to the season was met with yet another surprise when he was called up to play ball in Tacoma. It was far from his best season at the plate, posting a 98 and 76 wRC+ in AA and AAA, respectively. However, the next year saw marked improvement; his production jumped to a wRC+ of 109 in Jackson and 100 in Tacoma.
Shank’s success has carried over to the spring, registering three hits in just five at-bats. His most recent was an RBI single in the game yesterday that put the Mariners up 4-3 in the ninth. Should he continue to swing a hot bat, he might just find himself in the thick of a race for a spot on the big league roster.
A concern regarding his success at the plate, however, is a pretty darn high batting average on balls in play. With a .351 BABIP in AAA last season, it’s dubious that such a season is repeatable. Additionally, although he’s had a near dead-even split of playing time between second and third base, he has limited experience at shortstop. Given the fact that he’s competing with players who have logged much more time at short, this could cripple his chances compared to his counterparts.
But outperforming expectations is far from unfamiliar for the small town, small college, former 28th round draft pick. His level-headed approach to the game has catalyzed his development and allowed him to handle whatever has come his way. Most of Shank’s success has been overlooked to this point, but this spring presents an opportunity for him to get noticed. Shank may be a longshot to crack the big club’s roster, but should see plenty of opportunities with Canó and Segura departing to play for the Dominican Republic in the WBC, and may be able to position himself for a September call-up this year. Don’t forget about him.