2023 MLB Draft Profile: Zion Rose

Breaking the mold, and setting a new one.

Those are the words of New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series CEO and president Jeremy Booth on Zion Rose.

It isn’t hard to see why.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, the Chicago native has long brought an impressive physical presence and a unique profile to the catcher position. Rose told FutureStarsSeries.com that his extraordinary physique has always come naturally to him, and while he does focus on off-season workouts that help him regain his strength from a rigorous game schedule, he knows he’s been “gifted” to have his trademark athleticism from his mother and father.

Temptation to stray from what’s helped him maintain that, even as a high school kid, has never been an issue for the well-disciplined backstop.

“Honestly, it wasn’t that hard for me,” Rose said. “My parents were kind of strict on my food, so there was never really fast food. Pops, we never really had in our house; if it was found, it was dumped into the sink. My parents made it easy for that. And all the schools, I was fed vegan food from pre-school to sixth grade, so my diet has always been pretty good.”

With that athleticism comes questions, however, although they’re largely more complimentary than anything else. In short, few with the physical profile of Rose are catchers — even one of his more recent FSS scouting reports describes him as a “catcher now, can move to 1B or OF” — but anyone suggesting that Rose could switch spots largely isn’t saying that he necessarily should, more so saying that athleticism gives him the potential versatility that simply doesn’t come with most at the position.

That said? Rose is, first and foremost, a catcher. Period.

“Zion can absolutely catch,” Booth said. “Moving him from behind the plate has nothing to do with whether or not he can catch. He’s a leader, high character, athlete. Are there things to work on? Yeah. But lots of guys said Noah (Bo) Naylor couldn’t catch either and used the bat and athleticism as reasons. He stays right there as long as he wants to. The club that figures that out wins for a long time.”

None of this is a new conversation either around or for Rose, who believes that he’ll stay behind the plate for the long haul.

“The athletic ability, a lot of people think it would be best for me to save that and go to the outfield, but I think it’s given me an advantage behind the plate, given me more athleticism behind the plate,” Rose said. “It’s been a lot of talk about that, but I think it’s more I love the position so much, that I’m not going to give it up until I literally have to or unless that’s my only way onto the field, play another position. Then I’d give it up. But I’m going to stick to it as long as I can.”

The story of how Rose took to the position in the first place is a fun one in its own right.

“My first sport was football,” Rose admits. “I loved football a lot, so I used to play for this team called the Yankees, we were all little, it was house ball. I used to be a running back and linebacker, and I’d always be in that two-point stance. (My coach) was like, ‘You’re always crouching, you get a lot of contact at home plate, why not try catching,’ So, I tried it, and ever since then I’ve never left.”

It’s certainly worked out wherever he’s been, and that includes his most recent season at IMG Academy, where he helped lead the team to an undefeated year and championship. Making the trip to play for IMG far from home in Florida was something of an unexpected journey for the personable Rose, but one that he ended up relishing for a multitude of reasons.

“They had one of their catchers end up going to LSU, and another one leave early to attend Texas A&M, and they needed another catcher,” he said. “Their coach called us up one day and asked if we’d like to come down — it came up quick — but my family and I came together and made the decision that it was best for my career to come down here. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made, because IMG offers so much that you can’t get anywhere else; you get former MLB players as coaches, facilities that are top-notch that are all in walking distance, the weather is amazing down here, conditioning, mental coaches. You don’t see some of these things at D1 schools, so it was an amazing opportunity. The 25-0 season was a great season too, we were the first team to do it here, so it was a very memorable year and I’m happy I did it.”

Rose, of course, will have something of a decision to make in the near future here on whether he wishes to honor his commitment to the University of Louisville or sign with a team that takes him in the MLB Draft — and we’ll get to that shortly — but credits his time at IMG for helping him get ready for whatever that next step may be earlier than he ordinarily would have been able to.

“It was super beneficial,” he said. “I think coming here really prepared me for what’s to come next. If I would have stayed home, I don’t think I would have been at the same level of maturity I’m at now, just being able to live in a dorm by myself away from my family. I’ve got an air fryer over here, I get to cook for myself, but just having schedules and doing things by myself and going out on my own and being able to manage myself on my own is definitely going to help me at the next level.”

Where will that be, however? Rose announced his commitment to Louisville back in 2019, which has some thinking that it might be difficult to get him out of that given how far out it happened. The option of college baseball, especially there, is very appealing to him.

“I was young, coming into my freshman year, and Louisville was always the school I wanted to go to,” he said. “Midwest school — some people call it midwest, some people call it southwest, I think it’s Midwest — and there’s a lot of midwest kids that go there, so all the kids there I’ve either played against or played with, so we all know each other. The chemistry going in would be pretty good. Coaching staff is amazing, and they do really good with their catchers; Will Smith and Henry Davis (both got drafted recently) so it was a real good fit for me. My family and I were happy with how they recruited me, and it felt like they really wanted me.”

Rose has leaned on the advice of his mother, who reminds him it’s always good to have options, and he’s grateful for whichever way things play out whether it be Louisville or pro ball. Currently, the soon-to-be-17-year-old, who has accepted an invite to Major League Baseball’s upcoming Draft combine, believes he’s leaning towards going the college route so as not to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but also knows that his stock has continued to rise as more and more evaluators see the unique profile he could bring to their respective clubs.

He also said that back at Brother Rice (HS, IL) before he ended up transferring to IMG, Louisville fans would come out to watch him play, which impressed him greatly. Getting to experience that type of fanbase in an on-campus environment playing in the very competitive ACC remains appealing.

“They’re very passionate about their sports,” he said. “They don’t have many professional sports teams, so that’s like their professional sports team. I’m super grateful for that fanbase.”

Rose is also very grateful for his time with the Future Stars Series, where he came through the regional combines to earn an invitation to the prestigious Main Event at Fenway Park last year, as well as the subsequent Caribbean Classic in the Dominican shortly thereafter. A veteran of the travel ball circuit, Rose says he appreciated the approach to the bigger events.

“First, it was just how professional the events are, that really stood out,” he said. “Playing in Boston, and I told Jeremy this, that was my favorite event all year. It was different feel, playing in Fenway, the energy was different…that was the dopest experience of the summer. Stepping into the locker room was just like a fresh breath of history, it was different. Coming onto the field, there was nobody in the stands, but I felt like I had all this energy, so I couldn’t imagine if it was Red Sox versus the Yankees and all these fans out there yelling. It was definitely different.

“And also, the fact that Future Stars Series really sees the potential in every player. There were some players I’d never seen on the circuit who were amazing, and I’m like, ‘These are some of the top dogs.’ I think Future Stars Series does a good job of putting some of the unknown names on the list.”

A unique group of stars from that Main Event that the players themselves subsequently dubbed “The Goon Squad” reunited in the Dominican for their final run together at the Caribbean Classic, which provided a different experience for Rose to see what some of his international counterparts were willing to go through to try to take the same spot he’s after.

“That was definitely another one of the best experiences of the summer,” he said. “Playing that competition with those kids, it was dope. And Jeremy being able to put them on the field and in front of all those top-notch people, it was cool to me. Looking at where they come from and what they have to do to put food on their plate and get their money, it definitely made me more appreciative of getting to be at IMG, where I get everything fed to me, so it definitely made me more grateful.”

Gratitude is a frequent expression for Rose, who is appreciative for everything he learned during those experiences, and is looking forward to applying them as his career either progresses to college baseball or at the professional level, the culmination of years of work regardless of where he may end up.

“It’s definitely a big life choice whichever way I go,” he said. “But, I’m ready for whatever comes, and I’m ready to be on that big stage.”

Mike Ashmore
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