Brewers' 19th-rounder impresses on and off the field

Befriending high school student with Asperger's indicative of Hirsch's character

Brewers' 19th-rounder impresses on and off the field

MILWAUKEE -- When Zach Hirsch was a standout pitcher at St. Charles North High School in Illinois, he was featured on national television in a context that had nothing to do with his fastball.

Hirsch, who was drafted by the Brewers in the 19th round of the First-Year Player Draft on Saturday, was recognized on "The Today Show" for befriending Graham Jackson, a freshman at his high school with Asperger's Syndrome.

The segment described how Hirsch, a senior, saw Jackson sitting alone at lunch and decided to befriend him. People with Asperger's Syndrome often have difficulty interacting with others, but after becoming friends with Hirsch, Jackson began to reach out to others and make social connections for the first time.

Ask Hirsch about his friendship with Jackson, and he'll tell you he's the lucky one.

"Me and him are still really good friends," Hirsch said. "We keep in touch. He's a great kid, and he's probably one of the most loyal friends I have. It's been a blessing for me to have somebody like that."

Hirsch maintained that positive, selfless attitude through his five-year career at Nebraska, and it paid off Saturday when the Brewers selected him with the No. 566 overall pick. Now, the left-handed pitcher will have the chance to gain notoriety for his work on the field.

"I'm extremely excited," Hirsch said. "Obviously, it's always been a dream of mine to play professional baseball, and to get the opportunity, especially with a great organization like the Brewers, is awesome."

It wasn't always a sure thing for Hirsch, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 before he ever played in a college game. He redshirted his freshman year to recover and then struggled to regain his form.

"The first couple years were tough," Hirsch said. "I didn't have the same control, and that was one of the things I could always rely on. The velocity took some time to get back.

"There was a lot of failure, something that a lot of guys who play Division I aren't used to at the high school level. You learn that failure's gonna happen. How are you going to respond to it?"

Hirsch eventually rebounded, pitching in relief for Nebraska during his redshirt freshman year before becoming a starter the next season. He eventually switched back to the bullpen, where he found more consistency.

In his senior year, he led the Cornhuskers with a 1.72 ERA in 31 relief appearances, holding opposing batters to a .193 average. He struck out 50 while walking only 14, and it was enough to put him on the radar of Brewers scout Drew Anderson, a fellow Nebraska alum.

Hirsch said he throws a fastball, curveball, changeup and slider, and he has learned to trust all four pitches.

"I have the ability to locate my fastball pretty well and throw my offspeed for strikes, which helps me, even behind in the count," Hirsch said. "I guess it's just having a lot of trust in your pitches and going out there and attacking hitters."

Hirsch said he doesn't specifically model himself after any pro pitcher, but listed fellow lefties Cliff Lee and Johan Santana as some of his favorites. Though he found his niche in the bullpen for Nebraska, Hirsch said he's ready to do whatever the Brewers' organization asks of him.

"I would be comfortable either way," Hirsch said. "I have done both. Whatever they need me to do, I'd be happy to do it."

He hasn't gotten that far in his talks with Milwaukee yet. For the time being, Hirsch is soaking in the excitement of being drafted by a team just 2 1/2 hours from his hometown.

Whatever the Brewers ask of him, it's a safe bet he'll bring his positive attitude to the task.

"I think it's always important," Hirsch said. "I'm a big believer in, you do nice things for people, hopefully it comes back around your way."

Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.