Ryan Zeferjahn was part of a deep Kansas high school baseball class that also featured pitchers Riley Pint and Joey Wentz in 2016.
All three were well-regarded MLB draft prospects. Pint went fourth overall and Wentz was the 40th pick while Zeferjahn slid to the 37th round in the 2016 draft.
The right-handed pitcher knew he wasn’t ready to start a professional career straight out of high school. He wanted to refine his game and work towards a college degree at the University of Kansas before turning pro.
“I was not mature enough to go out on my own and start my career right away,” Zeferjahn said. “I think after three years of college, I’m really ready for the real world and for the draft after this year.”
In the midst of his third year at Kansas, Zeferjahn has the potential to go in the early rounds of June’s draft. He has the intangibles to go in the first round but needs to show consistency with his command the remainder of the season to have a chance of accomplishing that feat.
Going through the draft process a second time has helped Zeferjahn. He understands how to deal with scouts and doesn’t feel pressure when they are present at his starts.
“The scouts know I’ve matured, and that I’m a different person and pitcher now,” he said. “They’ve seen that development that I think they wanted to see with me going to college, and I think they are impressed with that.”
Zeferjahn struggled as a freshman in 2017. He posted a 6.19 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 35 walks allowed in 52 1/3 innings.
He experienced slightly better results last season when he recorded a 4.48 ERA with 100 strikeouts and 29 walks allowed in 80 1/3 innings.
Zeferjahn, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound righty, is off to a notable start this spring. He has dominated opposing hitters, boasting a 2.20 ERA with 49 strikeouts and 20 walks allowed in 41 innings. Opposing batters are hitting .167 off him this season, which is significantly less than last year’s average of .224.
“I think have had pretty good stuff since I was in high school,” Zeferjahn said. “I was a pretty big name coming out of high school, and I think it just wasn’t really clicking mentally, kind of. Being mentality prepared I think has really helped me to attack guys this year.”
Zeferjahn throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, curveball and changeup from a three-quarter arm slot.
His fastballs sit in the high-90s. He has used his two-seamer more frequently than the four-seamer this spring due to its late break. His mid-80s slider also is an above-average offering and generates a high amount of strikeouts.
He has relied heavily on his two-seamer, slider and changeup this spring.
“I think having those three pitches shows I can still be in that starting role in professional ball and not in a backend of the bullpen role like everyone thinks of me,” Zeferjahn said. “I think I’ve proven myself as a starter as long as possible.”
He has refined his changeup throughout his three years at Kansas and has gained more confidence in throwing the pitch. He occasionally has mixed in his curveball this spring.
Zeferjahn hopes to show consistency with his command the remainder of his junior season. He walked an average of five batters per nine innings in his first two years at Kansas.
He has shown slight improvements this spring, walking 4.39 batters per nine innings. He has walked at least four batters in three of his seven starts, including a seven-walk outing against Baylor in six innings on March 30.
If he can refine his command over the remaining part of the season, Zeferjahn could be a first-round pick in June.
“If I can command my three-pitch mix and get deep into games, then I think that’s my recipe for success this year,” Zeferjahn said.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.