Zack Gelof in A's green. (Photo/Twitter)
Zack Gelof in A's green. (Photo/Twitter)

Meet Zack Gelof, a Jewish ballplayer inspiring high hopes in the A’s organization

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Few things excite die-hard baseball fans more than a promising prospect rising through the ranks of their favorite team’s minor-league system.

Zack Gelof, a Jewish second baseman in the Oakland Athletics organization, is one such prospect. Hailing from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Gelof is rated by Major League Baseball as the No. 3 prospect for the A’s. Baseball fans generally expect such a player to not only make it to the big leagues, but to also be a key contributor.

Zack Gelof competing as a child for his Little League All-Stars team in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (Photo/Courtesy)
Zack Gelof competing as a child for his Little League All-Stars team in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (Photo/Courtesy)

“When you grow up as a kid, you want to be a big league player and become a Hall of Famer,” the 23-year-old Gelof said in a recent interview. “So I think those are huge goals. But as of now, it’s kind of just living day by day, and I think results will take care of themselves.”

Gelof has excelled in the A’s farm system. In 2021, his first year of pro ball, he played mostly with the Stockton Ports at the Single-A level, where he hit seven home runs in 32 games and had a .393 on-base percentage. He played most of the 2022 season with the Double-A Midland RockHounds, doing so well there in 87 games, with 13 homers, that he earned a late-season promotion to the Las Vegas Aviators, where he belted five homers in only nine games.

He’s beginning the 2023 season with the Triple-A Aviators, who play just one level below MLB, as he continues his transition from being a third baseman in college to a second baseman in pro ball.

Though the A’s haven’t told Gelof when he might get his first shot in “The Show,” Gelof said he wants to earn another promotion this season, which according to MLB.com and others is anticipated. A’s manager Mark Kotsay said one of Gelof’s objectives with Las Vegas will be to “dominate” before being called up to put on an Oakland uniform.

Gelof recently got a little taste of what it would be like to play in the major leagues when he competed for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic. One of his teammates was San Francisco Giants designated hitter Joc Pederson, and his competition featured some of the world’s best players as Israel played in a very difficult pool against Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Zack Gelof playing for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic against Nicaragua, March 12, 2023. (Photo/Courtesy Team Israel)
Zack Gelof playing for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic against Nicaragua, March 12, 2023. (Photo/Courtesy Team Israel)

Although Gelof struggled at the plate, going 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts — he attributed it to good pitching and “trying to do too much” for an offense that finished dead last in almost every hitting statistic — he enjoyed the experience.

“I just can’t believe that I was thinking about whether or not to do it, because it was that much fun and the competition was awesome,” he said. “The results obviously weren’t there, but I think being in that pool, we did our job to qualify for the next WBC. Hopefully we’ll get some better results in 2026.”

During the tournament, Gelof received some technical advice from Team Israel manager Ian Kinsler, a four-time all-star second baseman in his 14-year major league career and one of the all-time great Jewish players, that he said he’ll take with him.

“One day when I was fielding, I felt like I was getting bad hops on every single ground ball,” Gelof said. Kinsler “just said focus on seeing the ball and keeping a steady head. I think that night I had one of my best defensive games of the tournament.”

Gelof is no stranger to being at the top of his competition. As a senior in high school, he was Delaware’s state player of the year and was selected by the Cleveland Guardians in the 38th round of the MLB draft. He decided, however, to keep his commitment to the University of Virginia, where he enjoyed a successful three-year career.

Forgoing a contract with the Guardians paid off when Gelof was drafted three years later by the A’s in the second round (60th overall). He received a signing bonus of $1.16 million.

Through it all, Gelof’s Jewishness has been a guiding force. He did not have a bar mitzvah, but his parents are both Jewish and he grew up attending Hebrew school in his hometown at Seaside Jewish Community. He said being raised Jewish has influenced him to try to be a great person.

“I agree with almost all of the ideals that come with the religion,” he said. “Most of the ideals that are practiced I think I take in my life and especially through the game of baseball.”

Gabe Fisher
Gabe Fisher

Gabe Fisher is a freelance journalist who served as interim editorial assistant at J. in 2022. Follow him on Twitter @ItsGabeFisher.