Early March is typically a time when spring training games are under way and younger Brewers prospects are receiving a vast majority of the playing time. This year, formal big league camp and spring training games have been delayed due to the MLB cancelling games and the failure to comes to terms with of a new CBA with the MLBPA.
Devastating as this is, minor league ball players will still be ramping up like normal for their seasons are unaffected by the ongoing lockout. A few select players were invited to participate in a build-up camp, in which pitching prospect Jolon Zhao was one of them.
In a recent post, Brewers beat reporter Adam McCalvy highlighted his nasty looking curveball and directed it to Rob Friedman, who otherwise is known on twitter as the Pitching Ninja.
Who is Brewers pitching prospect Jolon Zhao?
Zhao was signed out of China as a teenager. He debuted in the Brewers minor league system in 2018 at just 16 years old. His 2019 season was lost due to Tommy John surgery and then his 2020 season was also lost due to COVID.
In 2021, he impressed at the Arizona Complex League where in 8.2 innings he struck out 13 batters. Following summer ball, he played in the Arizona Fall League but in his seven innings pitched he struggled mightily to a tune of a 5.14 ERA, four strikeouts, and seven walks.
As for his stuff, Zhao posses a very high-spin curveball. According to Fangraphs it is his highest graded pitch at 55. His fastball is next with a 40 grade and changeup last at 30.
While these grades are not as high as other pitching prospects, one thing we do know for sure is that the Brewers are great at working with/developing pitchers. At just 20 years old and very limited experience in the minors, he still has plenty of time to develop and continue to grow.
The positive is that Zhao’s curveball caught the eye of an experienced Brewers reporter enough that he believed the Pitching Ninja should start to take notice. Last year it was Aaron Ashby who fans brought to Friedman’s attention and Ashby ended up having a great season, making his MLB debut, and earned a spot on the post-season roster.
While we cannot expect a similar story out of Zhao this year, we should start taking stock in him as a prospect.
Zhao should have a full season ahead of him, likely starting in Low-A Carolina. If he can showcase this pitch on a regular basis, he’s going to find a lot of success. Keep an eye on this young pitcher.