Name: Lance Zawadzki
DOB: May 26, 1985
A fourth-round pick in 2007, Zawadzki began his professional career in Arizona after a pulled quadriceps muscle cut into his year. After hitting .435 in a 10-game stint, the switch-hitter was sent to Eugene and the Northwest League.
With the Emeralds, Zawadzki hit .267 across 25 games with seven extra base hits and 10 walks compared to 24 strikeouts. He also committed 11 errors in 20 games at shortstop.
Sent to the Midwest League for 2008, Zawadzki – as many others did in the cold weather – got off to a dreadful start. He hit .217 over the first month but steadily increased his production through the year, meeting a crescendo in July when he batted .337.
The year ended with a .273 average across 119 games with the Wizards. He drew 54 walks compared to 101 strikeouts for a .352 on-base percentage and added 38 extra base hits and 58 RBIs.
His 70.2 wRC (Runs Created based off weighted on base average) was the eighth best mark in the league and tops on the squad, and Zawadzki's 10.3 wRAA (Runs Above Average based off weight on base average) was 12th best.
Despite a sluggish first half, it turned into a solid season for the infielder.
"He had that slow start," Fort Wayne hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said. "I know he was hitting somewhere like around .201 or somewhere just above that, .205. I'll tell you what, all those guys, they really do work at their game and that's, that's very important for them, especially at this level. And Zawadzki is in the same category.
"He was always working on things and trying to straighten a few things out. Especially at this level, this Low-A level, a lot of it is, the first thing you have to straighten out and it's true of all these guys that were in Fort Wayne, is their approach. Because, if their approach is bad, then their swing is going to be bad. You're not going to see the ball the way you should see it to determine if it's a strike or a ball. So, he worked on that quite a bit and straightened out a few things. And, actually, the second half did really well."
Zawadzki is a better hitter from the left side than the right. He hit .304 off right-handed pitching and .220 off southpaws. His power is also more evident from the left side. There has been no talk of moving him to the left side full time.
Some of his troubles come from his willingness to do well. Zawadzki puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform on a nightly basis and that can aversely affect his play.
"I think for somebody coming out of spring training, he was hampered by coming off of a hamstring injury from a year ago," Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo said. "Wasn't real, real sure I don't think mentally out of the gates to kind of test it. We kind of pushed him; we convinced him it was strong. But, again, the individual has to go out there and prove it to himself, and he did that.
"He didn't have a good first half at all. He surely came on in the second half. When you see guys do that, when you see a Cumberland get a feel for the league and then starts to produce at the middle of the season and you see a guy like Zawadzki who checks the league out and then starts to tear it up in the second half, you're talking about some baseball players there."
The intensity he displays on a daily basis can be a mental grind over a full season. Learning to deal with the ups and downs was a big part of his first 140-game season.
Passionate for the game and willing to put in the work, Zawadzki has shown he can put work on the side into application when the game begins.
"Without a doubt, Lance has a nice skill set, strength in his swing and is a gamer," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He really has a strong passion for the game. What you are seeing now is someone that has talent that is starting to put in a consistent performance on the field."
The Lee College alumnus worked extensively with hitting coach Tom Tornicasa to shore up the offensive side of the game. He changed his stance and settled into a comfort zone as the season wore on.
"He's keeping notes," Dascenzo began. "They know how a pitcher's going to try to attack them and their ready for them when they come around the second time. You've got some people there, some ballplayers there, some young talent there that's paying attention to the game and they're laying in the weeds when they come back around again, so that was nice to see in how Lance did that."
He has quick hands and wrists and can turn on a ball quickly. He does a nice job of staying inside the ball and hitting it where it is pitched. When he tries to hammer the ball and makes a concerted effort to put power into his swing, the plane of his bat path through the zone can get loopy. It often causes him to top the ball into the dirt or swing over top of a pitch.
Trying to do too much is a theme for the infielder. He will swing outside the zone with runners on base or in a tie or tight game instead of allowing the game to come to him.
"Zawadzki didn't hit the home runs that we thought he was going to hit this year," Dascenzo said. "But, I think those are going to come, there's no question about it. He's got tremendous power from the left side. He can hit you from the right side too, but not as much as he does from the left side."
Arm strength is never a question with Zawadzki. He has a plus arm that can make all the throws from shortstop. Setting his feet and cleanly fielding balls is where the issue comes in. He has worked on lowering his balance point to be in a better position to throw but sometimes will neglect that mechanical part of throwing a smooth ball on target to the bag.
He also takes extra steps at times, causing him to field the ball behind his body. That puts his throwing balance off and makes it harder to throw the ball on a line.
"It's not uncommon for shortstops to have a boatload of errors in lower levels," Fuson said. "I had guys like Miguel Tejada in Oakland that had over 40 errors in the Cal League; Scott Brosius had over 40 in the Midwest League; both of them turned out to be solid major league players defensively. That is what the minor leagues are about is taking ability and grooming it into consistency.
"It takes time, but when you have a player like Zawadzki with a combination of skill, work ethic, and passion, the more years they play you will see the error totals go down. It's about developing consistent reads, pace and tempo with your arm – you don't need to throw every ball 100 MPH."
"He really played a really nice short, even though he had the 32 errors, the last six weeks of the season, played a really nice shortstop," Dascenzo added.
Zawadzki has plus speed that he is able to use at will. He stole 28 bags in 31 attempts and could have had more if given the chance. He takes confident leads, reads a pitcher well and has great instincts and first-step quickness. The combination of traits led to a high success rate.
Conclusion: Zawadzki is just putting all of the parts of his game together. He has an impressive package of talent, including power from both sides of the plate, and is working on harnessing the tool set. If he can find consistency, the sky is the limit – meaning he could jump up the rankings quickly.
The concerns defensively should iron themselves out with repetition. The mental part of the game, however, is up to him. Being hard on oneself is admirable but doesn't have a place in baseball. Being able to separate a game out and leave it behind will be just as important as anything else Zawadzki can do as a professional.
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