BENNINGTON -- For Zachary LeBarron, the disappointment of not being selected in the Major League Baseball draft last June could only be erased by a chance to prove himself worthy of playing at that level.
The 6-foot-3 southpaw made the most of the chance he got -- a post-draft workout with the Los Angeles Angels -- signing a seven-year contract with the club just days later and posting the fourth-best ERA (2.70) in the Arizona League over the summer.
But the long road to professional baseball had a few bumps in it for LeBarron, the first Mount Anthony Union High School graduate to sign a professional contract since Gary Parmenter joined the Chicago Cubs in 1983.
As a freshman, LeBarron was cut from the American Legion Post 13 team.
"He was trying out as a pitcher and first base but he wasn’t physically ready to compete with high school and college kids," said Mark Upright, the coach of the team at that time. "No freshman had ever made it before, and for the team that I had that year he just wasn’t ready."
"That summer [when I got cut] I was really upset just because my brother was on the team and I always wanted to be better than him; it was also the first time I really had ever gotten cut from a team, it wasn’t a good feeling," recalled LeBarron. "After that I worked out that whole summer to get bigger and stronger so that the next year I would make the team."
The freshman grew into a 6-foot-2 first baseman with a good bat who not only made the Post 13 team but also made the MAU varsity baseball team the following season as a sophomore.
After excelling at Elms College for two seasons and at Southern New Hampshire University, LeBarron turned the draft snub into a positive.
"It felt great to get the opportunity to have a workout the next day and to have a shot to get play professional baseball," LeBarron said. "Just the feeling of not getting drafted made me want it even more; to go out there and show them I deserve a chance to play."
His Angels contract is valid as long as he does not violate any terms -- such as participate in pickup basketball, softball, football or any activity that has a serious risk of injury -- and continues to perform at a high level.
In one season of rookie ball, it appears the latter requirement is right on track.
After signing the contract and relocating to the Angels’ affiliate in Tempe, Ariz., LeBarron went 4-3 in 14 games. He also surrendered just 20 earned runs in 66 2/3 innings pitched while striking out 53 hitters. He tied for 10th in wins in the league and was seventh in strikeouts.
However, LeBarron said it was a big adjustment from facing college teams with only two or three good hitters.
"In the Arizona League, everyone was good," he said.
Throughout his time in college and his first summer in the minors LeBarron’s best pitch was his fastball, but he also had a very good changeup that he perfected during his first four months in the pros.
"I was lucky to get a pitching coach that used his changeup as his best pitch during his eight-year career in the big leagues," said LeBarron. "So I can say I got a lot of extra work on my changeup in my first year of pro ball."
During this offseason and the forthcoming spring training, LeBarron’s goal is to work on pitch location, as well as better his curveball and develop a slider.
"My curveball is the pitch I use a lot as a swing and miss pitch," LeBarron said. "If I start using a slider it would be really effective as a pitch to get ground balls."
There is little rest to be had this offseason as LeBarron was put on a training schedule requiring him to work out four times a week at Cressey Performance in Hudson, Mass., a training facility that caters to professional baseball players. His training there runs through the winter, until he begins to throw again in early January.
It is easy for members of the Bennington community to look at LeBarron and be proud of all that he has accomplished.
"Zach definitely has a chance to go as far in baseball as he wants to." said SNHU coach Scott Loiseau.
"Ever since I was little I would watch baseball on TV and it was my dream to not just play professional baseball but to play in the major leagues," LeBarron said.