'Off the charts' hand-eye coordination leads CMU's Zavier Warren to Brewers
The first thing you notice when you talk to Zavier Warren is that, well, he doesn't much like talking.
Like the legend of President Calvin Coolidge goes, if you were to walk up to Warren and tell him you made a bet that you could get him to say more than two words, odds are Warren would reply, "You lose."
His game, however, makes quite a statement — even if, upon first inspection, you might not realize you're watching greatness, or at least pretty-darn-goodness.
"He does everything well. That's probably the best thing about him," said Jordan Bischel, Central Michigan's second-year head baseball coach. "At first glance, he's not gonna do anything that just amazes you. His 60 time is gonna be fairly run of the mill, his arm strength has come along way. He didn't hit any home runs his freshman year, but everything is good.
"His hand-eye coordination, though, is pretty off the charts. The ball just finds his glove, and he squares up a ton of balls. Hand-eye coordination is something that's probably overlooked in baseball, and probably more important than anything you can do."
The Milwaukee Brewers had seen enough from the 6-foot, 190-pound shortstop to be plenty impressed, and made Warren their third-round pick, 92nd overall, in the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft. Warren has reached an agreement on a contract, for slightly less than $600,000. The slot value for the pick is $637,600.
Warren, 21, a Southfield native who attended Birmingham Groves High School, has come a long way in a very short time, considering the only other Division I offer he had was from Oakland.
Now, he's Central Michigan's highest draft pick since 1977, when the Los Angeles Dodgers took Doug Harrison and the Chicago Cubs took Dave Pagel, both in the third round.
"Yeah, I didn't know that was true," Warren said over the phone this week. "That's really awesome to be kind of recognized as one of the top players that came through CMU. I'm really happy and proud I went to CMU.
"It means a lot to me."
For Warren, Central Michigan was always the fit. In high school, he took a visit to the Mt. Pleasant campus, received an offer, and during the car road home he had made up his mind — even as his mother, Pat Torres, urged him to take some time to think about it. So Warren did. He waited all the way until the car pulled back in his driveway. He called then-coach Steve Jaksa and committed.
Bischel, then head coach at Midland's Northwood, got his first look at Warren during the summer of 2016, before Warren's senior year in high school, at a July 4 tournament at CMU.
He wanted to offer him, but correctly figured he was Division I-bound. They were reunited when Bischel was hired as Jaksa's replacement before Warren's sophomore season at CMU.
"He really had a monster weekend," Bischel said of that 2016 event. "I knew he was a pretty talented player."
When they were reunited at Central Michigan, Bischel's first impression of Warren was his quiet nature. Warren is polite, but not overly outgoing.
Bischel said it took a while "to get him out of his shell," at which point he realized Warren was much more engaging in the clubhouse and dugout, around his teammates.
He also realized Warren was a dynamo on the field, at several positions.
His freshman year, Warren played mostly shortstop, but also caught, and played first base and third base. His sophomore year, with Central super-deep at catcher, he was mostly at shortstop — especially after Central's other option, Jordan Patty, got injured. The Chippewas played the bulk of the season with no backup at the position.
This past year, while cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, saw Warren play mostly shortstop again, but also get some spot starts at catcher.
It's actually at catcher where the Brewers had him announced on draft night. It's a position he played more in high school, particularly during summer travel ball, and some during the Cape Cod League in 2019.
"They're also keeping other options open," said Warren, who's been mostly baseball-focused since he was a youngster, following his dad, Chris Warren, who played ball at Grand Valley State. (The younger Warren briefly played soccer, but just for fun to hang out with friends, he said.)
Plenty will depend on his bat. Typically in pro ball, if you can hit, a team will find a position for you.
A switch-hitter, Warren batted .325 during his three seasons at Central Michigan, with a .447 slugging percentage and .455 on-base percentage. In 129 games, he had nine home runs, 104 RBIs and 28 doubles. His sophomore season, he had a program-record 23 doubles and was named All-America in leading the Chippewas to the NCAA Tournament. With 54 walks in 2019, he had an OBP over .500.
That helped make Warren — who, as evidence of that outstanding hand-eye coordination, also is outstanding at Ping Pong, a skill that will serve him well during downtime in the the minor leagues — one of seven players with Michigan ties taken in the MLB Draft, shortened to five rounds amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He was the only player taken in 2020 from a state school not named the University of Michigan.
Warren, who grew up a Tigers and Miguel Cabrera fan and hasn't yet been to Milwaukee, said he had an inkling the Brewers were interested. They had a Zoom call in the weeks leading up to the MLB Draft. Warren had been in touch with the area scout, Pete Vuckovich Jr., the son of the Brewers former Cy Young winner.
And on Day 2 of the draft last week, watching things unfold at home with friends and family, he got the call.
Odds are, knowing Warren, it wasn't a very long call.
"It was," said Warren, "a really cool day."