2022 Vancouver Canadians catcher/outfielder Zach Britton is the latest to field questions on this episode of C’s Chat.
Hailing from Batesville, Indiana, Britton was taken in round five, 136th overall, by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2020 MLB draft after a three-year stay at Louisville. Signed by scout Nate Murrie, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Britton received a signing bonus of $97,500.
Before arriving on campus at Louisville, Britton was a four-year letterwinner at Batesville High School and earned notoriety for his ability to clear the 325-foot fence in right field. According to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, residents in nearby houses complained about his ability to do potential damage to their property and looked to prevent him from taking batting practice. The compromise solution was to have a few of Britton’s teammates outside the park to catch any balls heading their way.
Britton enjoyed a banner senior season in 2017 as he batted .533 and was rated the best high school catcher and number four overall prospect in the state of Indiana by Perfect Game. He was also a Rawlings-Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American.
Britton made 29 starts behind the plate during his freshman season with Louisville in 2018 in which he hit .235 with a .400 on-base percentage but a groin injury and the depth the Cardinals had at the catching position led to Britton roaming the outfield corners on a permanent basis after he returned from injury.
The 2019 season saw Britton tap more into his power by hitting .288 and slugging .470 with five home runs and 28 runs batted in. He was a pinch-hitting extraordinaire with a .571 batting average in 21 at-bats. Britton and the Cardinals advanced to the College World Series in Omaha only to be derailed by the eventual champion Vanderbilt Commodores, featuring current Canadians teammate Harry Ray.
Before the draft, Britton solidified his credentials with two strong showings in summer college ball. He hit .361 and had a .927 on-base plus slugging percentage with Newport of the New England Collegiate League in 2018 before slugging .500 in the Cape Cod League with Orleans.
The 2020 season saw Britton get off to a great start before COVID shut things down. He led all of Division I in doubles with 11 and had slashed .322/.446/.542 in 17 games when the season was cancelled. Baseball America ranked Britton as the 192nd prospect for the 2020 draft.
“A 6-foot-1, 200-pound outfielder who was one of just three Louisville players to start all 17 games during the 2020 season, Britton has a fairly loud lefthanded bat. A career .280/.395/.455 hitter in 110 games with the Cardinals, Britton has a pretty lefthanded swing with good bat speed and some impressive exit velocity numbers. His hitting ability is the best tool in his box, and before play shut down for the 2020 season, Britton led all Division I hitters with 11 doubles. His power has been more doubles than over-the-fence in his time in the ACC, though he did hit five home runs in 28 games with a wood bat last summer in the Cape Cod League. It’s possible with a few swing adjustments Britton could be geared for more home run juice. Defensively, Britton fits best in left field, where he’s a fringy runner with an arm that ranges from a 45- to 50-grade tool. He’s caught in the past but has been behind catchers at Louisville and during his time in the Cape and scouts don’t think he’s a good receiver behind the plate. Britton’s value comes from his bat, and his power potential from the left side puts him somewhere in the 5-7 round range.”
Britton’s selection in the draft was a memorable one. MLB Network was interviewing Louisville coach Dan McDonnell when the Blue Jays announced Britton’s name in the fifth round.
The 2021 season saw Britton begin his pro career with the Dunedin Blue Jays. He drew three walks in his first game in Tampa May 4. His first RBI was a bases-loaded walk and his first hit was a double against Tampa the next day. He continued to torment the Tarpons with a two-hit game May 6 and a three-hit effort with a walk May 8. Britton clubbed his first home run against Bradenton May 13. His OBP marks for May and June were .446 and .422 respectively but he scuffled in July and was on the 7-day injured list in early June and at the end of July. Britton bounced back with a solid August by hitting .292 and slugging .500 and had a .407 OBP in September before going on the injured list one more time. Had it not been for that injury in September, Britton may have made his debut in a Vancouver uniform for the final week of the 2021 campaign in Hillsboro.
Britton would get to wear the colour red again with the Canadians in 2022. His first home run with the C’s was April 26 in Hillsboro to open the scoring in a 6-0 win. That was the highlight of a tough April for Britton who hit just .145 but he earned his share of walks with a .319 OBP. The month of May was much better as he put together five multi-hit games, including three home runs in a span of two games against the Tri-City Dust Devils. He hit the walk-off shot May 20 before going deep twice May 21 as he went 3-for-3 with a double and a hit by pitch, resulting in 10 total bases.
Britton played just the opening game of the Canadians following series in Hillsboro but was back in the lineup June 2 and contributed a couple of hits in the C’s come-from-behind win against Spokane at Nat Bailey Stadium.
C’s Plus Baseball caught up with Britton during the Canadians homestead against Spokane. The transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
C’s Plus Baseball – Let’s take it back to college. You join the Louisville Cardinals. You had three seasons there. How did that shape you as a player?
Zach Britton – I think the biggest thing I learned from Louisville would just be a professional on and off the field. I think I learned a lot on how to become a man at Louisville as well. Learning how to manage my time correctly and honestly as a baseball player, just learning what I need to do to be ready to play every day. And I learned from some absolutely great coaches and historical coaches. When all is said and done, their careers will be historic and look back upon when they’re out of the game. So I was super fortunate and super blessed to learn from some great players and great coaches at Louisville.
CPB – Now you were a catcher with Louisville but you also have to go to the outfield because that position was pretty well stocked, Henry Davis among the names. Of course, he goes on to be the number one pick in the 2021 draft. You also had some really talented teammates with (pitchers) Reid Detmers and Bobby Miller. What was that like trying to fit in and trying to carve your place on the roster?
ZB – My freshman year, I caught I think close to 40 games and then I had groin surgery after my freshman year and that set me back six or seven months through rehab and everything. So my sophomore and junior year, I pretty much strictly played outfield on kind of my choice. (It was) just what was best for my body at the time and then once I signed with the Jays, it was kind of an immediate ask of them if I wanted to move back behind the plate because they saw some serious value there and I was all about it.
CPB – Before we get to your time with the Blue Jays. Your Louisville team, they certainly had some good seasons, especially in 2019 against Vanderbilt where you went up against (current Canadians teammate) Harry Ray. How did you see that series (and knowing) you were that close (to winning) the College World Series that year?
ZB – Yeah, I think that we were the two best teams in the country that year and I think a lot of people would second that. I think we played those guys three times twice in Omaha and then once at our place that year and they were a tough team, super well-coached with a lot of talent.
CPB – You get drafted by the Blue Jays. And of course during the draft on MLB Network, they were interviewing (Louisville coach) Dan McDonnell? What was it like for you following the draft? Were you watching on TV with everybody else? Did you have any idea the fifth round was going to be the round?
ZB – Actually I thought I was going to go in the third. And then I thought I was going into fourth to a couple of different teams and then after a couple of picks went off in the fourth, I knew that if I didn’t get picked up in the fourth, the Blue Jays were going take me in the fifth round. And then for it to match up like it did, you couldn’t write it any better than that. It was definitely really cool to be able to kind of share that experience with him and right after, I think he was the first phone call I made and I told him thank you for sharing that with me and thank you for all that he’s taught me and the lessons I’ve learned in the game through him.
CPB – Who else would you say has helped you out along the way? Were there other coaches along the way even before college? Who’s really been influential in your career?
ZB – Man, there are a ton of coaches growing up, anybody from Mike McLaughlin and Dave Taylor from the Indiana Bulls. Sean Laird, another one from the Indiana Bulls. Just guys that I played with that kind of shaped me as a man and as a ballplayer. But yeah, there was so many coaches and strength coaches and trainers along the way that helped me get to the point where I am now and definitely stay with me everywhere I go.
CPB – (Current Canadians teammate) Riley Tirotta was somebody you knew because he’s from Indiana, Where did you cross paths with him? It must have been during your high school days, I take it?
ZB -Yeah, I think we always knew each other’s names. Indiana is a small state and if you play baseball in Indiana, you’re going to know everybody else. Especially really talented players like Riley. So yeah, somewhere in high school, I think we crossed pass and then once he got drafted, I knew I had played against him in the Cape Cod League going into my junior year. So when he got drafted, I knew the name and reached out to him right away and told him congratulations. And we’ve been playing together pretty much right after he got drafted.
CPB – Talk about the Cape Cod League. You had a really good summer there. You were in New England the summer before that. And I think that’s one thing from what I’ve been reading, that’s what the Blue Jays really liked was your success at the Cape Cod League. What was that experience like for you?
ZB – Man, it was probably besides playing here at The Nat. It was the best baseball experience I’ve ever had, playing in front of a ton of fans playing every day against really, really sound competition. It was some of the best baseball memories and experiences that I’ll have. When my days are done playing, I’ll look back to Newport and Orleans and the Cape as two of the best places I’ve ever played.
CPB – In 2020, you were off to a great start. You actually led the nation in doubles and that might have helped boost your draft stock even more if it wasn’t for COVID. When you look back on that, how did you deal with it?
ZB – I think what helped me a lot is, as soon as the COVID shutdown happened, I didn’t stop training. I went to Florida where everything kind of was open for the most part, comparatively speaking. And I was able to still get work jn with a couple of my college teammates. We were there for a month, two months and working before the draft every day. So nothing really on our end lost steam and we didn’t really get out of baseball shape. We stayed in baseball shape and even got in better shape and we were ready to go whenever our name was called or whatever happened. So the five rounds, I think it got to a lot of guys and a lot of guys are kind of freaking out about it, but I remained calm and just controlled what I could control and had a lot of faith with the canvas I put together over the past year, year-and-a-half before the draft.
CPB – Talk about your first season in Dunedin. You had a really good first series against the Tampa Tarpons. A bit of a lull at the beginning but you started to come on in the last couple of months of the year. What did you learn about playing pro ball in your first year?
ZB – I think I learned how to take care of my body even better than I already did. You go from three games a week in college to playing every day in pro ball. And then with the position change, going back to catching, it was something I had to kind of relearn. I had to hit and catch and play a full season that way. So my first season for me, it was really successful and just learning what I needed to do and I had a lot of success in there as well.
CPB – You had a chance to (check out) the Blue Jays Player Development Complex and all the tools of the trade. How does that help you develop as a player?
ZB – The new PDC is incredible. I know I’ve seen a lot of different teams complexes just going through the Florida State League last year and the Blue Jays PDC is pretty unrivalled, just based on what else is out there that I’ve seen and you’ve got everything you need there and it’s a great place for development for sure.
CPB – So you come to Vancouver this year and for the most part, you’ve been doing the lion’s share of the catching, You also play a bit of outfield as well but how has it been making that full time transition back to the plate?
ZB – It’s been great. I love it and you know, my metrics have been good and I’m improving in areas I’ve wanted to improve in. So I’m very happy with my progress and I think the organization is as well. But for me, it’s just about constant work and constantly getting better behind the plate and getting better for the pitching staff.
CPB – I think there has been one or two doubleheaders where you were a catcher in game one and then you’re in the outfield for game two. How do you prepare for that because that’s got to take a toll on the legs there for you?
ZB – It definitely does. But kind of like I said, it’s all about just recovering and prepping the right way to get ready to play. The training staff does a great job here, Roelvis (Roelvis Vargas) and Tommy (Tommy LaBriola) do a great job of getting us ready to play and Yuka (Yuka Sanui), our dietitian knows what we should be putting into our bodies. We have a great staff surrounding us and helping us get on the field every day and I think everybody on the team would get behind that.
CPB – I want to talk to you about your awesome weekend against the Tri-City Dust Devils. Three homers in two games. What was going well for you that weekend?
ZB – I made a couple of adjustments, some mechanical adjustments that I saw on video. The first couple weeks of the season, I just worked on a couple of different drills and implemented it into my routine have been doing the same routine since and it’s helped me just kind of go back to what I feel comfortable with and doing some damage.
CPB – Were there any specific adjustments you can talk about?
ZB – Yeah, I think the biggest thing for me was just firming up my front side a little bit. I was getting a little soft on my front side and I was catching everything really deep. I started to see some balls out in front of my eyes and hitting off a firm front side and, and I think the results speak for themselves.
CPB – You’ve shown a really good batting eye so far, especially last year in Dunedin with about a .370 on- base percentage and it’s around the same mark here too in Vancouver. How have you developed a good batting eye? Is it maybe your experience as a catcher that you kind of know what to look for?
ZB – Not really. I think there’s times where I’m almost too passive where I see the zone so well that I know what pitches are close, I don’t swing at them. But since I was a little kid, I knew the zone and I knew my zone pretty well. But yeah, I think that’s definitely a strength of mine is knowing balls and strikes and when it’s in the zone, being aggressive on pitches in the zone and when it’s out of the zone, wait for something to come into my zone and hit it. So yeah, I think that’s something my Dad and I always practice growing up in the field that’s kind of always stuck with me.
CPB – Talk about what it’s like for you preparing for a game when you know you’re catching. Take us through your typical day.
ZB – So I show up probably 12:00 or 1:00 o’clock at the field for a 7:00 p.m. game. Then I’ll go over some hitters on a video database. I’ll look at their tendencies and if we face the team a lot before, then I’ll probably have some more feel for what their hitters do. But I’ll check the lineup, see who’s in it and see if I don’t know anybody. And then kind of game plan with our pitcher, how we’re going to pitch certain guys. And then we’ll come out, do the normal BP cage routine, everything like that. Come out before the game, throw with the pitcher. I have a meeting with the pitching coach (Phil Cundari) and our analyst Joel (Joel Bonnett) and we’ll kind of just talk through the lineup, talk about our pitcher, what we want to do, how we want to attack and then catch the pen. And then you go play the game.
CPB – Speaking of scouting reports, if you had to give a scouting report on yourself, how would you describe yourself?
ZB – I’m somebody who just comes to the field every day and plays hard. A very, very polished hitter who knows the zone very well and can do a lot of damage on pitches over the heart of the plate and can hit the ball to all fields with power. From a hitting standpoint, that’s how I play. But as a baseball player, I go out there and I play as hard as I can every day to win the game.
CPB – I just want to ask you a couple of quick questions about some of the pitchers and get your thoughts on them. Let’s start with Sem Robberse. What are your thoughts on him?
ZB – Sem is a really good young kid, man. He’s got a great mix. Four good pitches and he’s shown he can throw them in any count and he’s not afraid to throw them in any count. Sem is a great young pitcher and he’s got a really bright future.
CPB – Chad Dallas.
ZB – Chad Dallas is another one. He’s got a good mix, he can throw his breaking balls in any count. Another guy you can really rely on and go give you four, five, six innings any given night.
CPB – Ricky Tiedemann. I know he just got here, but he’s made quite the statement so far.
ZB – Another young kid. He’s got electric stuff, hard worker and a really good kid. He’s got a bright future in this game for sure.
CPB – Yosver Zulueta.
ZB – Whoa! (laughs)
CPB – He lit up the radar gun at 102 and throws 77 a few pitches later. I mean, wow!
ZB – That guy’s a tough guy to face. And sometimes when I’m catching him, the fastball, it’ll knock the wind out of you if you catch it wrong. That guy’s got electric stuff. He’s a pro, a pro’s pro. Just goes about his business and he’s a great teammate with electric stuff.
CPB – I just want to ask you finally about Naswell Paulino.
ZB – Naswell Paulino. That’s one of my favorite guys that I’ve ever caught in my life. I’ve been catching them for about two years now through last year’s spring training and last year’s season and now this year. He’s been a great guy to catch, easy to work with and he’s a competitor. He’s a competitor. He loves to win, he loves getting guys out. Final question, your goals for 20,
CPB – Final question. Your goals for 2022.
ZB – On the baseball side, I mean, I have personal goals (about) some metrics I’ll stick to but kind of the non-tangible goals is just to become a better player all the way around and just build myself up to be an everyday big league catcher sooner than later. That’s my main goal at the end of the day. But for this year, come out, learn about the game and learn about myself as much as I can to prepare me to play in the big leagues sooner than later.
- Uniform Numbers – Wore number 34 with Louisville but has worn number 6 with Dunedin and Vancouver
- Favourite MLB Team Growing Up – Cincinnati Reds
- Favourite MLB Players – Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones and Chase Utley
- Twitter – @zbritton33
- Instagram – @ztbizz
Thanks a million again to Zach Britton for this latest round of C’s Chat and to Canadians broadcaster Tyler Zickel for arranging the interview.