WASHINGTON - Once Hickory, NC-born Zachary Brzykcy, 21, signed as a non-drafted free agent with the Nationals, the former Virginia Tech pitcher had a staunch ally with an impressive track record who just happened to also live in North Carolina.
That would be Sam Narron, who was slated to be the Double-A pitching coach for the Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League this past season. A former pitcher at East Carolina, Narron has been a minor league coach in the Nationals’ system for nine years and lives in Gibsonville, North Carolina.
Brzykcy, a right-hander, passed on his last year of college eligibility to sign with the Nationals this summer.
He worked out with Narron a few times at his home in Taylorsville, North Carolina (near Hickory) before reporting to Instructional League in West Palm Beach last week.
“It is definitely a roller coaster for me,” Brzykcy told Federal Baseball on Saturday from his hotel in Florida.
“It is great baseball weather; the fields are pristine. I can’t complain; it is perfect for a pro baseball” debut.
After he went undrafted, Brzykcy planned to return to Virginia Tech for his senior year in 2021.
But after he heard from most Major League teams, he decided to sign with the Nationals as a non-drafted free agent.
The uncertain status of college sports in light of COVID-19 concerns played a role.
“You know what with the pandemic, that definitely played a big part. That impacted my decision,” he said. “But I was ready mentally go into pro ball. I was ready to start my career.”
The North Carolina native grew up following the Nationals and is a fan of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
He was signed by Bobby Myrick, a scout for the Nationals, who lives in Colonial Heights, VA.
“We are fortunate to [have] signed Zach,” Myrick said in an email to Federal Baseball on Sunday.
“I saw him in the fall of his [sophomore] Year (2017) for the first time. I wrote a follow report on him. I felt really good about him. When he became eligible, not only did I see him pitch, I had a chance to meet with him face to face.
“Excellent make-up/character. Good work ethic too. I’m really big on make-up/ character.
“He came across really well in our meeting. Big arm! Plus [fastball], with life and he has a good breaking ball to go along [with] it. Great competitor too. Also, Va. Tech coaches did a great job with him while he was there.”
“I know their development speaks to my pitching style,” Brzykcy said of the Nationals’ minor league development program.
“Sam Narron lives (about 90 minutes) from me. Sam has helped me so much in the past two months get ready for pro ball. Just all-around it is a great situation.”
The pitcher was working at home with Narron this summer when he heard MLB had signed off on Instructional League.
“About a week later I got a text from Ryan Thomas,” he said of the director, minor league operations and Florida operations with the Nationals, “saying, ‘We want you to come down to Florida.’ It was pretty awesome. As a non-drafted guy, I know I am not high on the totem pole but I have the interest of them.
“Obviously my family was really happy,” added Brzykcy, who had three saves for Virginia Tech in 2019 and then pitched in seven games out of the bullpen in the short 2020 season.
“I am happy I will be playing baseball instead of sitting at home.”
Another Virginia player who signed with the Nationals as a NDFA is Quade Tomlin, an infielder from Lynchburg.
His father, Randy, pitched in the majors for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was a former minor-league instructor in the Washington system.
The MLB draft was just five rounds earlier this year – due in part to the pandemic – after it lasted 40 rounds in 2019. Brzykcy guesses that he would have been drafted in the top six to eight rounds had the draft gone longer in 2020.
Brzykcy played for the Hokies for three seasons and was a closer for the last two, in 2019 and 2020.
The Nationals plan to stretch him as a starter in Florida, but realize he could be a reliever in the future as well.
Brzykcy stayed on campus at Virginia Tech during the spring semester after the college baseball season came to an end.
The former business major is now studying history and is taking classes online this fall while in Florida and is close to graduating.
His grandfather, Jerry. J. Brooks, played minor league baseball in the 1950s, while aunt Susan Brzycky was an All-American softball player at Canisius in New York and his uncle John Edgemond was a swimmer at UC Davis.
One of his instructors in Florida is Narron, whose cousin, Jerry, also played at East Carolina, in the major leagues from 1979-87, and was the manager for Texas and Cincinnati. Sam was the pitching at Single-A Potomac in the Carolina League in the Washington system in 2019.
And now one of his pupils has to deal with protocols surrounding the virus.
“It is definitely weird to be here. We get tested twice a week,” Brzykcy said.
“It is a little different. We have to do a daily questionnaire to make sure we don’t have any symptoms. I am used to it; it is that big of a deal to me.”
The Nationals’ first Instructional League is slated for Tuesday against the Marlins, whose Spring Training home is just north of West Palm Beach in Jupiter.