Gelof’s baseball future looking brighter all the time

Cape Henlopen High grad Zack Gelof (18) hit five homeruns in 18 games this spring as a sophomore third baseman at Virginia. Virginia sports information photos

REHOBOTH BEACH — Was Zack Gelof nervous before his first college baseball game?

Sure.

The former Cape Henlopen High All-Stater just remembers sailing a throw past his first baseman in pre-game warmups.

“I look over and all my teammates are laughing at me,” said Gelof. “I had a good laugh. I think after that, I was like, ‘Alright, let’s try not to embarrass yourself.’”

By the time the freshman third baseman got up to the plate for the University of Virginia in that 2019 season opener, he was more relaxed, ripping a double in his first at-bat.

“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s awesome,’” said Gelof. “I didn’t really know what hit me.”

When the game was over, Gelof had gone 4-for-5 with three doubles and four RBI against defending national champion Vanderbilt, which was ranked No. 2 in the country at the time.

The debut even got his name thrown around a little bit on the MLB Network.

After that kind of start, it seems like Gelof hasn’t looked back since.

Indeed, while he’s still less than two seasons into his college career, he’s beginning to look like the next Delaware kid with a legitimate shot at making it to the Major Leagues.

All Gelof did as a freshman was reach base in his first 28 games while batting leadoff, start all 56 contests and hit .313.

But he was off to an even better start this spring. In 18 games, Gelof was hitting .349 with five home runs — three more than he hit all last season — with a pair of triples, six doubles and 18 RBI.

Zack Gelof

He was leading the ACC in total bases (47), slugging percentage (.746) and runs scored (24) when the college season was stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder has 28 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases in his first 74 college games.

“He’s continued to mature,” Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor told CBS19 News at the start of the season. “He’s taken on more of a leadership role. And I think he’s going to be even better, maybe hit some more balls out of the ballpark.

“But he’s the guy that has some really great experience for us, that needs to command our team.”

Coming out of Cape as the state Player of the Year, Gelof was drafted in the 38th round by the Cleveland Indians. But it’s difficult to say what Major League scouts really thought of him since he had already committed to Virginia by then.

Gelof reached base in his first 28 games last season as a freshman leadoff hitter for the Cavaliers.

“It was interesting,” said Gelof. “I was just so excited to go to Virginia. I really have no idea what could have happened if I said I’d sign for a certain amount.”

Because of the unusual circumstances this spring, the season won’t count against any college athlete’s eligibility. But even though he’ll still be just a sophomore next year, Gelof will be eligible for the draft again after the season.

Clearly, his stock has only risen since high school. Gelof, though, said he tries not to dwell too much on the decision he’ll probably have to make next summer.

“Obviously I think it’s a dream to get drafted — and get drafted in the first round,” he said. “But it’s all about helping my team win and doing everything I can to get the team back to Omaha (for the college World Series). That’s where we belong at the University of Virginia.

“Obviously, I think about the draft at times because I’m trying to become the best player I can be for my team and myself.”

The situation will get a little more interesting because Gelof’s younger brother, Jake, is slated to join him with the Cavaliers in the fall.

The two were teammates on Cape’s first DIAA state championship squad in 2018. Jake then transferred to Florida’s IMG Academy for his last two high school seasons.

Zack said he’s excited about getting to team up with his brother again, this time in college. Jake, who has also been playing third base this season, made his college decision last summer.

“We’ve been looking forward to it since it happened,” said Zack. “It’s been like a dream come true. I can’t wait for it. Hopefully, we get to play out there soon enough in the fall.”

With their schools closed down, both Gelof brothers are back home in Rehoboth, working out together in a warehouse and home gym.

A National Honor Society student and class president at Cape, Gelof is smart enough to realize a good season-and-a-third isn’t enough to get him where he wants to go. He knows he needs to keep improving.

This season, for instance, he started the year just 1-for-16.

“I was just thinking way too much,” said Gelof. “I needed to go back to what I was good at. It doesn’t matter what their (the opposition’s) game plan is, especially at the college level, because people make mistakes through the heart of the plate.

“I knew it was going to be tough the second time going around,” he said about his sophomore season. “But baseball is a tough sport. … The preparation gets so much better (in college) and you learn more about yourself.”

Gelof has started all 74 games so far during his college career.

In a different world, Gelof would have a schedule full of baseball the rest of the spring and summer.

He was slated to play in the Cape Cod College League this summer but the league just canceled its 2020 schedule on Friday. In his previous two summers Gelof has played with teams in Michigan and Massachusetts.

Between the college and summer seasons, Gelof played in over 120 games last year.

“It was a really good experience,” he said. “My dream is to play 162 games a year.”

Cape Henlopen, which has only been around as a school since 1969, has never sent a player to the Majors. Former Phillies pitcher Chris Short was a Lewes High grad.

The last former Henlopen Conference player in the Majors was Caesar Rodney High grad Ian Snell, who last pitched at that level in 2010.

Gelof just wishes he was playing baseball anywhere right now. As with any player, it feels very strange not to be playing games this time of year.

“You see it’s a sunny day and it’s like, we’re supposed to be playing Duke right now at home or something like that,” said Gelof. “I kind of get down for a second but there are real problems out there and this is just college baseball. I just keep my head down, work and spend time with family.

“I’ve been lucky with the situation we have. I just try to keep a class-half-full mentality.”

Judging from various highlights and game photos, that’s the approach he’s always taken. Gelof seems to still really enjoy playing baseball.

“I mean, baseball, at the end of the day, it’s a game,” he said. “I’m trying to have fun. Especially now, with all this stuff going on (in the world), I try not to take for granted.

“At the end of the day, I’m playing with some of my best friends. That’s just so fun to me and makes me really happy. I just try to have fun and not worry about results.”