CLEARFIELD — Chad Zurat embarks on his third season as a minor league pitcher in the Colorado Rockies organization Friday when he boards a flight at Pittsburgh International Airport to report to spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz.
After weightlifting or conditioning drills five days a week at Victory Sports Fitness in State College since last fall and later incorporating throwing sessions back home, the 6-2, 230-pounder believes he has done the offseason work he deemed necessary to be prepared for his second trip to the Rockies’ camp.
“I feel good physically and mentally, and I’m confident,” he said. “I’m ready to go play some baseball outside.
“I’m going in with the mindset to show them I still can perform and throw strikes and command multiple pitches.
“Hopefully, I can keep making progress and moving forward.”
His workout regimen early on was four days of lifting and one for conditioning. That was altered to a three-two ratio in January.
In late December, when University of Maryland-Eastern Shore freshman pitcher/outfielder Thomas Summers returned home for holiday break, Zurat started throwing at the Lawrence Township Recreation Building in Hyde.
Then, he switched to long tossing with former Clearfield Area High School and Penn State Behrend teammate Mike Moyer and bullpen work with former Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub teammate Thomas Yeager in the LTRB batting cages.
Zurat has been throwing a lot of curveballs to Yeager lately after ditching that pitch for a slider during last season.
“I’m trying to get the feel back for it so I can throw it again this season,” he explained. “I just wasn’t throwing if where I wanted last season, so it was better to throw the slider because I had better control of it rather than trying to force the curveball.”
The hard-throwing right-hander also will complement his fastball with changeups.
Zurat’s professional career began in mid-summer 2014 when, while working and playing sandlot ball in his hometown after earning a degree from Penn State Behrend, he received a surprise call that resulted in him reporting to the Tri-City Dust Devils in the Class A Northwest Short-Season League.
He impressed enough in 21 innings over 10 games to warrant an invite to spring training last year and wound up pitching in 19 games with five starts for the Grand Junction Rockies in the Pioneer Rookie League, two games for the Boise Hawks in the Class A Northwest Short-Season League and three games for the New Britain Rock Cats in the Class AA Eastern League.
In 20 appearances, Zurat worked 47.1 innings with a 4-3 record and a 3.99 earned run average.
His career statistics included a 5-3 record and 5.27 ERA for 68.1 innings with 36 strikeouts and 26 walks.
Colorado’s minor league prospects share the National League club’s Cactus League complex with the major leaguers.
“They have two fields on one side, and we have four on our side,” Zurat said. “We share a cafeteria and use the same gym.”
Early workouts will include throwing bullpens, pitching to fellow minor leaguers and practicing bunt coverages and defense, he noted.
“After a week, we’ll start playing inter-squad games and it shouldn’t be too long after that we starting playing other teams,” Zurat said, mentioning Chicago Cub, San Diego Padre, Milwaukee Brewer and California Angel farmhands as some of the opponents.
At the conclusion of the 2015 season, the New Britain franchise was moved to Hartford, Conn., and Zurat still was listed on the Yard Goats’ roster as of Oct. 6.
He has no idea where he’ll be assigned coming out of spring training in early April.
“I just want to play some full-season baseball,” Zurat said. “Hopefully that would be back on the East Coast.”
He pointed out Ashville, N.C., is Colorado’s team in the Class A South Atlantic League and plays teams as far north as Maryland and West Virginia.