Padres Prospect Interview: Lance Zawadzki

LAKE ELSINORE, CA: In the 2007 draft, the Padres took some gambles on players whose talent was greater than their collegiate careers indicated; one of them was shortstop Lance Zawadzki.

Zawadski, 24, has always been considered a five-tool talent, but a college career that spanned three different schools, LSU, SDSU and finally Lee College in Tennessee didn't really provide him the opportunity to show the full extent of what he could do, despite hitting .461 in his final season at a NAIA level school.

He had a decent start to his pro career at Eugene, before really coming on in the second half in Fort Wayne last year, hitting 292/.370/.442. He led the team in stolen bases with 28 in 31 attempts, hits (124), total bases (181), and extra base hits (38), second in walks, third in slugging percentage and second in OPS.

The big question on him was if he had the glove to stay at short, where he led the Wizards with 32 errors, which was attributed to mostly poor footwork.

This year, he was one of the top hitters on the Storm and in the Cal League before being promoted to San Antonio, hitting .276/.360/.552. Additionally, the errors were down as he rotated between second and short.

We caught up with Zawadzki just before his promotion to San Antonio.

You went to three schools in your collegiate career, which is unusual because usually you associate someone who went to that many different places as a discipline problem or some sort of head case; but I've never heard anything other than positive things about you. How did you end up at so many different places?

Lance Zawadzki: It was kind of a whirlwind trip I guess. It was nothing against any of the places it was just something that fit for me at the next place that I was going. It was all on my own choice and it was just something different I was looking for at the next baseball program.

Whenever we read about you, there is always the statement that you are a potential five-tool talent, which is both flattering and scary with the expectations it brings. Last year in the second at Fort Wayne you began to show that potential with some very solid numbers. Did that help build up your confidence coming into this year?

Lance Zawadzki: I think even when I was struggling I always had the confidence. We talked about this a little bit last year. I think I was pressing trying to get off to such a hot start I tried to grind through everything. When I took a step back and evaluated everything, I knew I needed to relax some more. When I just started to let my hands go and not worry so much is when I really began to put up my best numbers.

That is kind of what has been happening this year, which is why I got off to a good start. Just try to relax and let the talent take over instead of trying to force too much.

Its funny you said that, I thought when we saw you were injured you were going to run into the same problems you did last year. Is that how you avoided it?

Lance Zawadzki: Yeah, it was just a matter of keeping that mentality. I think in that first full year you learn so much about yourself as a player. My biggest thing is that I am so competitive it's really easy for me to try to grind through and swing too hard. When I take a step back and stay loose, keep moving my feet on defense and try to see the ball a little longer, that is when I am able to get the most out of myself.

It seems that has been the case this year, your power numbers are what so many projected you would have the ability to do. Is this what you have expected?

Lance Zawadzki: Yeah, its something that I have always had the ability to do. I've had that power but I haven't been able to get it out. I think it goes back to when I was really grinding it out and trying to swing too hard. When you try to swing too hard, it actually slows down your bat speed and actually takes away from your power. Home runs are coming when you try to stay short and just see the baseball.

It sounds like you are focusing more on squaring up the ball instead of attempting to swing too hard and muscle the ball.

Lance Zawadzki: Yeah that is the key. When you are relaxed, you can see the ball a little longer and just trust your hands. You're not worrying about getting in front of the ball and hitting it right out of his hand. You have a better chance to recognize the pitch and see if its one that you can hammer.

It doesn't seem like you have any problem with the Padres patiently aggressive philosophy. Is that just the way that you have played your whole life?

Lance Zawadzki: I would say that my focus is, and Grady talks to us about it and its been pounded into us from day one, is just get a pitch that you can handle. That is always something that I've done, but I've been a little more aggressive earlier in the count in the past. I think what I have learned that if its there its fine, but try to wait for a pitch that you can square up.

It can get misconstrued as being overly patient, but really he just wants you to wait for a pitch that you can drive.

When you talk about in your zone, does it take awhile to understand what exactly your zone is? Do you have to narrow it as most guys do?

Lance Zawadzki: Its something that I have certainly learned in pro ball just because you are playing more games so you have more of an opportunity to learn what you can do. You can kind of clue in early in the count what kind of pitch you are expecting or by the situation of what type of pitch you are going to get.

The key is to recognize the pitch and try not to do too much with it.

So many players and coaches have stated they believe it becomes a little easier to hit as you move up, despite there being better players, because the pitchers are more around the plate. Have you found this to be the case?

Lance Zawadzki: A lot of people that have been up further say that. WIth me, where I have been, this level is very similar to low A ball. I was up in Double-A a little bit with San Antonio at the end of the year, I got into one game, but was able to stick around for the playoffs, but you can see that it is a different game up there because they are much more around the plate.

It just brings into play what Grady preaches; if there are a bunch of pitches around the plate, you have to clue in on that one ball that you can hammer. If you are swinging at anything, you are going to get yourself out. To me, I think it becomes easier because you learn more about yourself as you are going up.

Speaking of Grady, we spoke to him at the end of the season about you. Defensively, while you have a lot of talent, you had quite a few errors in Fort Wayne last year. He was kind of dismissive of that fact stating that for young shortstops, it just takes time to have the ability to concentrate in that many games. He said you would be much better defensively next year.

This year your errors have gone down, and this is a tougher infield than Fort Wayne. Has that been the case with you?

Lance Zawadzki: I really worked hard in the off-season, and I spoke with Grady and he said the same thing that you just said, which is refreshing to hear that someone is still behind you and believes in you. Last year, I wasn't happy with so many of them because they were just dumb errors. Most of them were just from poor footwork and this year my main focus has been to really focus on every pitch and keep my feet moving until the ball is at first base.

You seem much more relaxed this year than last. Is it because you have a better idea of what to expect in your second full season than in your first?

Lance Zawadzki: We love being out here everyday, but it can be hard because it's everyday. If you have a couple of bad games it's tough. You just have to dig the ditch and throw it in there and move on. I think a lot of it is about getting a good routine. I've tried to keep my same routine before the game so you get in all your work. That way, when it comes time to play, you are just having fun and letting your talent take over.

Is that why the routines are so important to you guys. It kind of keeps you insulated from the roller coaster that playing everyday can become?

Lance Zawadzki: Absolutely, and I've run into a little of that this year. I've been in a bit of a slump and maybe tried to do too much at the plate. What brings me back each game is just getting my work in; getting my feet moving on ground balls, concentrating on what I need to do in BP so when the game comes you can throw all of that stuff out and just play.

You see so many guys come out their first year and struggle in the short-season leagues. Then you come out in your first full season leagues and put up numbers. Is it that big of a struggle coming out of college and playing pro ball?

Lance Zawadzki: I think its just the learning curve and getting comfortable. In pro ball, you are getting used to swinging with wood and playing against much better competition. I think the next year you have a better idea of what it takes; how to learn to play everyday, instead of just Friday through Sunday.

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