Arguably the best pitcher in New York City isn’t on draft boards and he doesn’t have a college lined up.
That’s because Andrew Zapata, Poly Prep’s 6-foot-1 right-hander with the blazing fastball and control of up to three off-speed pitches, is only a sophomore.
He’s touched 89 miles per hour on the radar gun. Of his first five outings, four have been shutouts. He has registered a miniscule 0.84 ERA and piled up 27 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings pitched – and he’s only starting to grow facial hair.
“If he progresses the way he should, he will be the best pitcher we ever had,” said 10th-year Poly Prep coach Matt Roventini of a list that includes Sam Hasty (Rutgers), Sam Berg (Northeastern), J.J. Franco (Brown), Ryan Burke (Wake Forest) and Sam Heller (Amherst).
Zapata, 16, has blanked private school power Berkeley Carroll, threw six scoreless frames against defending New York State Association of Independent Schools Athletic Association champion Collegiate, and also shutout Catholic school dynamo Xaverian and Riverdale in a first-place showdown for the top spot in the Ivy Prep League last Friday.
The latter two performances displayed the poise and makeup his teammates rave about.
Against Xaverian, the tying run was on second base in the seventh inning with noted catching prospect Elvin Soto at the plate when Zapata fanned him on a 2-2 changeup. He breezed through Riverdale’s high-powered lineup for six innings before finding trouble in the seventh. He allowed a double, hit a batter and walked another. He then went to 3-0 on the next hitter before regaining his composure and pumping in three straight fastballs to cap the gem.
“When things aren’t going your way – I’ve said this before – you gotta find a way to overcome it,” he said.
The baby-faced Staten Island native has already begun to receive significant college interest from Wake Forest, St. John’s and Boston College. Not only that, he is on the radar of Major League scouts.
“Here you have a 6-foot-1 kid with a clean arm and ability to command four pitches,” one scout familiar with Zapata said. “He’s certainly a guy that we need to keep an eye on for the next two years.”
It could be the seventh inning or the first, bases loaded or empty, game on the line or the first batter he’s faced. It doesn’t matter to Zapata. Nothing changes: Same expressionless demeanor, same quick delivery and routine.
That, more than his lofty numbers, is what has endeared him to coaches and teammates.
“He’s one of those guys that strikes out the side and sits in the corner of the dugout by himself,” catcher Marcus Hernandez said.
Richie Carbone, last year’s staff ace who is now a freshman at Johns Hopkins, saw that poise in Zapata last year, even though he spent the majority of his freshman season on the bench. Zapata, Carbone said, was one of his loudest supporters, always one of the first Blue Devils to congratulate another. He often asked the upperclassmen questions and never showed a hint of disappointment in his reserve role.
“He seemed to observe everything,” Carbone said. “He wanted to learn and it’s helped him this year.”
This has all happened so quickly for Zapata, who likes to deflect kudos and sheepishly smiles when his eye-popping numbers are relayed to him. He was recently voted the best pitcher in the city in a NYPost.com poll, just another impressive accolade. He appreciated the nod, but he won’t let it go to his head.
“Now I have to prove it,” Zapata said. “It’s still a young season, I really haven’t done much.”