Zack Short and Jason Foley, close friends who talk by phone nearly every day, finished their respective baseball careers at Sacred Heart University after their junior seasons in 2016 and turned pro.
Both are both moving up the prospect rankings in their respective organizations — Short with the Cubs, Foley with the Tigers — and are among a trio of Sacred Heart products currently in the minor leagues, joining Troy Scribner, who made his big-league debut last year with the Angels and is currently rehabbing in the Diamondbacks’ organization.
That’s about where the similarities end between Short and Foley, who have taken very different roads to where they are now.
Short is, aptly, a shortstop currently with the Tennessee Smokies, the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate. Entering the weekend, Short’s 13 homers, 49 RBIs and 24 doubles were tops among shortstops in the Southern League. He’s been particularly hot lately, raising his average nearly 40 points in the past couple of months, from .198 on June 8 to its current .237.
And when MLB.com unveiled its Top 30 prospects for each organization recently, Short popped up at No. 22 in the Cubs’ ranks.
“You hear a little bit of rumblings about that, but you try not to look into it too much,” Short said by phone this week. “It doesn’t matter where they put you, you’ve still got to play.”
Still, not bad for a kid who hit just .241 as a junior at Sacred Heart before being taken in the 17th round of the 2016 draft.
At least Short was drafted. Foley went undrafted after his junior year at Sacred Heart. He figured he’d return for his senior season and was pitching for the Mystic Schooners in the New England Collegiate Baseball League that summer when he caught the eye of a Tigers’ scout.
A week later, Foley was signed by the Tigers and underwent a physical at their spring training complex in Lakeland, Florida. Not long after that, he was pitching for the Class A short-season Connecticut Tigers at Dodd Stadium in Norwich — about a half-hour up the road from where the Schooners played.
“It was kind of neat,” Foley admitted.
Foley underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in July, 2017, and will miss the entire 2018 season. But that hasn’t stopped him from being named the No. 29 prospect in the Tigers’ organization, based mainly off the numbers he posted last season as a back-end of the bullpen guy at High-A Lakeland, before his injury.
“I’m definitely aware of that, a lot of family and friends tell you,” Foley said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool. But ultimately it comes down to how you play. You try not to let it get to your head too much.”
Short, 23, has always been a slick-fielding shortstop with dynamite in his bat, according to Sacred Heart coach Nick Restaino.
“He’s electric,” the coach said. “He’s a kid who probably could have played on any team in the country in college. Out of high school, he wasn’t a big kid — still isn’t a big kid (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) — but he’s got a lot of fast-twitch in him. He’s a baseball player, through and through. He was born to play baseball, that kid.”
Short split last season between Class A South Bend, where he led Midwest League in walks, and High-A Myrtle Beach, and combined to hit 13 homers between the two spots. That earned him a spot to start this season in Double-A, and despite some early-season struggles (.187 in April), Short has stuck around all season.
“They’ll exploit your weaknesses here before you even know what your weaknesses are,” he noted. “That’s the difference between here and other levels. They see it one game and keep attacking it until you prove you can change.”
It’s been a roller-coaster season or Short, but he wants to finish it out with a little more consistency.
“They like to think about August as the biggest month for us,” he said. “It just shows you’re not cashing in, that your mind is still there for the whole month. That could go a long way for next year, where they place you.”
For Foley, whose surgery was performed by Dr. James Andrews, it’s been a long, hot summer of rehab down in Lakeland. He just started throwing bullpen sessions a few weeks ago and will continue doing that through the end of the month before heading back north.
The Long Island product has found a place in Stamford and will train there while also finishing up his final semester of classes at Sacred Heart this fall. He’ll return to Lakeland in January to continue his journey and try to follow the path of All-Star Joe Jimenez, a Tiger reliever who also was undrafted.
“I always thought, when I saw him throw, that he could be at the next level,” said Restaino. “I’ve had a lot of professionals, guys that have pitched in the minor leagues, the big leagues, from the time I coached at Fordham. He’s so free and easy, he could get it into the mid-90’s, you knew he could put it all together.”
Foley, Short and Scribner will continue to make a good name for Sacred Heart baseball, as well.
“It’s nice,” said Restaino. “Those kids are all hard-workers, deserving. It’s good for us. We’re happy to see them do well.”
Former Housatonic Regional and UConn standout Willy Yahn has been named to the New York Penn League All-Star Game, which will be played on Tuesday in State College, Pennsylvania. Yahn, a third basemen at Aberdeen, will play for the South All-Stars.
Also, Lakeville’s Wills Montgomerie, a sixth-round draft pick out of UConn last year by the Dodgers, has been promoted to High-A Rancho Cucamonga.