ANAHEIM – “I haven’t been to (Los Angeles) a lot so playing here is going to be awesome.”
Zach Neto said those words to Jeff Passan in an interview with ESPN just minutes after he was drafted by the Angels.
“I knew anything could happen,” Neto declared just before the previous comment. Little did he know, it would be less than 10 months before that awesome feeling of playing in Anaheim would be a dream come true.
Neto, 22, laced up for his first game at Angel Stadium on Friday afternoon against the Kansas City Royals, where the Halos captured a 2-0 win.
In his home debut, Neto put up a huge defensive effort against the Royals. He helped pitcher Shohei Ohtani find his way out of a two-runner-on and one out jam in the fourth by initiating a swift double play. Then, Neto went on to open the ninth inning with another huge stop and took a line drive away from Matt Duffy, snuffing out any momentum Kansas City may create.
Neto finished 0-1 at the plate on Friday, but still got on base when he was hit by two pitches. With the two HBP’s, Neto became the first ever MLB player to be hit by five pitches within his first seven career games, but the Miami native says he’s used to it.
“In college they tell us, ‘Don’t move your feet.’ If the pitch is there and it hits you then it’s a free base … on base percentage goes up,” explained Neto.
The Angels’ second-ranked prospect comes from Campbell University, a school that has been hit by 737 pitches over the past 6.5 seasons.
Just less than a week after being called up from the minor leagues, the No. 13 overall pick was already making the transition as the team’s new starting shortstop look easy.
Angels staff and manager Phil Nevin officially called up their 2022 first draft pick from Double-A Rocket City last Saturday. The decision was sparked by a phone call to Neto from Nevin on a quiet bus after suffering a loss to the Boston Red Sox.
“He was just messing around,” said Neto on the conversation with Nevin.”He was like, ‘I already predicted you’re gonna have your first hit in Boston and then you’re gonna go to New York and you’re gonna hit your first home run.’”
Neto checked off one of those boxes on Monday when he got his first MLB hit while facing the Red Sox. Although he did not get that home run in New York as Nevin predicted, Neto did finish with two doubles against the Yankees.
Neto hit .322/.408/.529 with eight homers, 10 doubles, eight stolen bases and 37 RBIs in 44 games in the Minors. The night before getting called up to the major leagues, the Miami native hit two home runs for the Rocket City Trash Pandas. Now, he is the first 2022 Draft pick to reach the major leagues.
Neto is only going to get better at shortstop with more reps of course, but his presence at the position already seems to be greatly improving the Angels roster.
“He’s been playing a heck of a short. He doesn’t lack any confidence but it’s in a good way,” stated Nevin on his new roster addition. “He’s not afraid to express himself and – I kept telling him, ‘Just be who you are’ and he has been. He’s going to be a really good player in this league.”