There’s a confidence that West Jordan’s baseball team exudes when Zach Draper pitches. The Jaguars score more runs, play better defense and are supremely confident they will win every time Draper toes the mound.
With an arsenal of four pitches and capable of throwing in the high 80s, Draper is the type of pitcher every teammate loves to play behind.
“He tends to give us a psychological advantage,” West Jordan skipper David English said about Draper’s impact. “They’re more confident the other team won’t score as much. When he’s pitching, the whole team is different.”
Draper won his first three starts of the season. He went 6-2 on the mound last season and has been undefeated ever since entering the week, including summer ball. The unassuming 6-foot-3 southpaw says working ahead in the count has been key.
“I’m throwing more strikes now, and it helps me stay more focused,” Draper said. “I like my curve a lot, and if I’m ahead in the count, I’ll throw it down low. First-pitch strikes are most important, as well as location.”
Draper, a three-year varsity starter, earned second-team all-state and first-team all-region honors last season. He models his repertoire after Philadelphia Phillies pitchers Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. As a left-hander, he is able to throw his curve more inside against left-handed hitters, which helps get them out.
English, who coached against Draper for two years while at Copper Hills, is more than happy to have the budding ace on his team.
“His velocity has increased, as has his stamina,” English said. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger. He’d throw in the low 80s before, and now he can hit the high 80s. He’s reached 88 [mph]. His fastball has a lot of movement on it, and people normally aren’t able to get a good hit off him or hit it hard.”
With Draper on the mound, West Jordan has defeated Timpanogos 10-3 at the Desert Hills Invitational and won 7-2 over Juan Diego and 10-0 over Hunter. That amounts to three wins and a 27-5 run differential. The Jaguars have gone 1-2 with someone else starting, including a 42-13 run differential entering the week.
“He usually doesn’t give up a lot of hits and averages about one strikeout per inning,” English said. “He can get them on any pitch.”
Draper credits his teammates with making him look better.
“My team backs me up really well,” he said. “We have a really good team. We won the ninth-grade championship, and it’s the same group now.”
At the plate, Draper hits in the middle of the order and sports a .400 average. Primarily known as a gap hitter, he also can drive the ball to the fence. He is the fastest player on the team, making it difficult to replace him on the basepaths.
After a visit in February, Draper committed to the College of Southern Idaho, where he intends to challenge for a spot in the rotation. English, for one, is excited to see how his ace handles the transition to college ball.
“He needs to continue to get bigger and stronger and work in the weight room,” English said. “It’s a lot better coaching him than against him.”