Seventy-eight dreams will come true Monday night as some of the top amateur baseball players in the country will hear their names called on the first day of the MLB Draft. Most of them will sign for seven- or six-figure bonuses, begin their professional careers with automatic prospect prominence and receive special attention and instruction from their new organizations.
For the thousands of draft hopefuls whose phones didn’t ring, who must wait until Tuesday or Wednesday or beyond for their shot, Mets lefthander Daniel Zamora is here to tell you that’s OK.
In 2015, after his redshirt sophomore season at Stony Brook, Zamora didn’t get picked until the Pirates took a chance on him in the 40th round — ninth-to-last in the entire three-day, 1,215-player draft.
That was good enough for him.
“As long as you have a jersey,” Zamora said, “you have a chance. That’s all it is really.”
Zamora had a chance, sure, but not a very good one, objectively speaking. Of the 600 players in the second half of his draft — rounds 21-40 — only 12 have touched the majors four years later. Zamora’s success is something of a draft miracle, a testament to his ability and determination and a fortunate trade.
Reminiscing now, Zamora says he wasn’t confident he would get drafted at all. In filling out medical questionnaires, a standard part of teams’ draft prep, he scared some clubs away with his 2013 labrum surgery.
On Day 3, Zamora, playing for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod Baseball League, tried keeping up from the field. Then his phone died (despite 30 percent battery). In the bullpen, he and a few draft-eligible teammates stayed updated via a teammate’s phone, subscribing to notifications from @MLBDraftTracker, a Twitter account that automatically tweets every pick.
By that point in the draft, the picks come rapid fire, separated by seconds. So the tweets, too, were rapid fire, the phone going buzz, buzz, buzz, a pace of play much faster than what was going on on the field.
“It’s just a waiting game,” Zamora said. “It’s kind of scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Zamora was the 1,207th overall buzz.
“I was so close to being Mr. Irrelevant,” Zamora said, almost wistfully, of a given draft’s final pick.
The 40th round was 13 later than Zamora was picked in 2012 out of high school. He mulled returning to college — “I loved my experience at Stony Brook,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything” — but a decent signing bonus and the mere chance to go pro swayed him.
“Realistically, not many teams are going to take a chance on a 22-year-old who had labrum surgery,” Zamora said. “How many teams take a chance on a 23-year-old who had labrum surgery?
“When I looked at it like that, I was like, all right, if I want to play professional baseball, this is my chance. Forget what round I was drafted in. I have a jersey. Let’s go out there and play.”
And he did. Zamora climbed steadily through Pittsburgh’s farm system for three seasons, but found his experience was similar to that of many later-round picks.
“If you’re not much of a prospect, they’re not going to work with you,” Zamora said. “You are what you are. I didn’t have much one-on-one instruction. Coordinators come to town, I didn’t talk to them when I was with the Pirates, at least. Me and my teammates, we learned from each other.”
That changed when the Pirates traded Zamora to the Mets in January 2018 (for Josh Smoker). Still far from a top prospect, he suddenly found himself with an organization that viewed him as an interesting potential big-league reliever, a southpaw who threw a ton of sliders with a weird arm angle.
Zamora made the jump straight from Double-A Binghamton in August. This year, he is among the Mets’ several relievers bouncing between New York and Triple-A Syracuse. (The Mets optioned Zamora to the minors Friday when they activated Seth Lugo — himself a 34th-rounder — from the injured list.)
Altogether, it is proof, Zamora says, that even the longest of long shots can make it to The Show.
“I hope it gives a lot of people hope,” Zamora said. “Me personally, I always look up big leaguers and I’ll look at when they got drafted. Oh, he was drafted in the 34th round and he’s there, so why can’t I make it? I just hope it gives other people a feeling that they have a chance, too.”