SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. • When Zac Veen looks at Brendan Rodgers, he sees a glimpse at what his future could hold: a call-up to the Rockies, and, perhaps one day, a full, luscious beard.
Veen, the Rockies’ top pick in the 2020 draft, showed up to camp sporting a slim mustache. Rodgers, whom he considers his big brother, has the full ordeal, almost matching Charlie Blackmon’s signature look.
“Hopefully, I can grow it out,” Veen said with a smirk. “He’s in the spot that I want to be in.”
Veen wants to do more than just model his looks after Rodgers. Veen and Rodgers, the current No. 1 prospect and the former top one, are already training mates, carpool buddies, golf partners and roommates. They are also hoping to be teammates soon.
Veen, only 20, is shy, much like Rodgers was once he first started getting attention. Few understand the pressure of being a top prospect, but Rodgers, now 26, gets it. Rodgers has all of the firsts out of the way now — first call-up, first hit, first home run — and has relaxed into his role as a major leaguer.
He was quiet at first, too — being 18 and suddenly a professional athlete is a big transition — and didn’t feel like he had anyone to go to when he was rising through the system. Rodgers wants to make sure Veen feels he has someone to help guide him.
“I try to make him feel comfortable,” Rodgers said. “There’s definitely a learning curve.”
The two met when Veen was 16 and Rodgers was 22, but didn’t start training together every day until this past winter. They live an hour away from Competitor Performance Academy, where they work out in the offseason, and rode together in Veen’s Tesla. Gas prices are, after all, astronomical right now, Rodgers said.
They are at two very different phases of their careers, and therefore have separate plans. A shoulder injury in 2020 and a hamstring strain from a steal attempt at the start of 2021 hindered Rodgers’ progress, but he finally broke through last year. He was cautious after the hamstring injury, though, and didn’t attempt to steal any bases after.
His main focus this off-season was on explosiveness and improving strength through range of motion. They used a VIPR — a long, weighted tube — for his isometrics, still staying away from heavy squats that could pressure his hamstring.
“There’s been quite a few tough goes for him,” their trainer Jeff Higuera said. “His maturity and his patience has grown over the years … it’s not just overcoming injuries — it’s doing stuff to avoid happening again.”
Veen, on the other hand, was coming off his first professional season. He focused on building muscle, and learning how to maintain it during the season. A big part of that will come from nutrition and making sure he eats enough.
“Both of them want to be great,” Higuera said. “They show up every day. They do what they have to do. I really think they both have really bright futures.”
Veen expected to be in major league camp this year, but due to the shortened spring, the Rockies limited their invites. He was disappointed. But Rodgers reminded him that minor league at-bats are just as important.
The Rockies have given him chances this spring, throwing him into major league games. Veen has fared well, earning a few hits and walks.
“He’s doing great,” manager Bud Black said. “Even on the minor league side, we’ve been watching him. He’s doing well.”
Veen spent all of last season in Low-A, ending the year with a .301 batting average and 15 home runs. He’s hoping to make it to Double-A, or even Triple-A, by the end of the year. Rodgers, who will be the Rockies’ starting second baseman this year, thinks Veen will be ready to compete for a major league spot by this time next year.
“He’s special,” Rodgers said. “He’s one of the best left-handed bats for a 20-year-old that I’ve ever seen. It’s going to be fun to watch him.”