BG grad Borenstein hopes business decision finally pays big dividends
Zach Borenstein has become well-versed in how the game of professional baseball becomes a business.
The former Buffalo Grove star experienced it with the organization which drafted him, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and then with the one which traded for him, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
So, when Borenstein became a free agent after last season, the left-handed power-hitting outfielder and his agent Brian Grieper looked for a landing spot which could provide the best path to the big leagues.
The decision? If he could make it anywhere, it would be in New York with the Mets.
"I was extremely excited to see what was out there for me in free agency," said Borenstein. "We had different offers and different opportunities but the Mets definitely felt right. I'm excited to start a new chapter."
Borenstein, who helped lead BG to the 2007 Class AA Elite Eight as junior, has experienced his share of plot twists during his seven years in pro ball. The last two full seasons and parts of the last four have been in Triple-A for the 23rd-round pick of the Angels in 2011 out of Eastern Illinois.
Borenstein spent his off-season getting ready at Athletes Academy in Palatine with former BG coach Jeff Grybash and his brother Dan, who pitched in the minor leagues, for his invite to the Mets big-league camp as a non-roster invitee. Through Tuesday he was 4-for-19 with 4 RBI, 2 doubles and a triple as he tries to earn an outfield spot.
The Mets signed power-hitting Jay Bruce as a free agent in January to go with Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto. But there are potential opportunities since Cespedes was limited to 81 games last year with hamstring problems, Conforto isn't projected to return until May 1 from shoulder surgery and backup Juan Lagares has been plagued by injuries the last two seasons. Brandon Nimmo, their 2011 first-round pick, also figures in the outfield mix.
"I was in a situation where fortunately the Mets contacted us right away," Borenstein said of signing in November two weeks after he opted to become a free agent. "It's extremely exciting to be wanted and to be somewhere where they will take a look at you and evaluate you for what you can do on the field.
"In certain situations teams will be little more outfield conscious or infield conscious. I felt there was more of an opportunity to make an impression and get a chance as an outfielder with this organization."
Borenstein did not always have similar feelings in his previous two stops. In his third year with the Angels, he was named MVP of the Class A California League after producing a slash line of .337/.403/.631 with 28 homers and 95 RBI.
That led to a 2014 promotion where he split the season between Class AA and AAA. Then, in early July, he was picked up in a trade by then-Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers where the Angels acquired two former big leaguers in ex-Cub outfielder Tony Campana and pitcher Joe Thatcher.
"Initially you think the trade is good for you," Borenstein said.
That changed a few months later when the Diamondbacks started an organizational overhaul and fired the highly-respected Towers, who died of cancer in January.
In 2016 at Triple-A Reno he hit .272 with 9 homers and 57 RBI. Last year he jumped to .279/.351/.573 with 24 homers and 91 RBI, but more organizational changes in-between those seasons was a sign it was time to move on.
"When you have three different regimes in three years, that makes it hard," Borenstein said. "The first front office wanted you there and since then you have two other front offices and they have different plans. It's tough when you're not really a high-profile guy. It's not impossible to make it up but it makes it harder.
"You learn how much of a business it is. It's so much different than high school and college ball. But that's the hand you're dealt and you can't change it."
Spending time in big-league camps with the Angels and Diamondbacks was definitely beneficial. Borenstein had opportunities to pick the brains of big-leaguers such as A.J. Pollock and Jake Lamb.
"They were just simple things," Borenstein said. "But sometimes it's good to hear the same things a few different ways until it resonates with you."
Borenstein said he's also become better at self-coaching so he can make adjustments between pitches and at-bats and not just from game-to-game.
The additional knowledge and understanding has only added to the belief for Borenstein, who turns 28 in July, that he remains on track to bigger and better things. Such as joining power-hitting Mike Marshall, infielder and current Nationals coach Tim Bogar and catcher Josh Paul as BG grads who played in the major leagues.
"There has never been a doubt in my mind that I lacked the ability or the necessary traits and attributes to be successful at that level," Borenstein said. "Everyone has a different path. Some are easier and some are more difficult.
"I'm still excited for this opportunity to get the major leagues and show what I can do and have a long career up there. There has never been any wavering in my confidence."
Because Zach Borenstein is determined to prove he made the right business decision.
On deck: Fremd graduate Mike Tauchman looks to turn his taste of "The Show" last year with the Colorado Rockies into a long-term role.