Name: Lance Zawadzki
DOB: May 26, 1985
"A "tools guy" that really has a chance to be a special," former San Antonio and current Portland hitting coach Orv Franchuk said. "He could be an over evaluator; he's pretty hard on himself."
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.
The 2009 season began in Lake Elsinore. Thirty-six games later he was promoted to Double-A. Zawadzki collected 18 extra-base hits over that time, including 10 homers, while driving in 34. He hit .357 with runners in scoring position for the Storm and posted a .360 on-base percentage.
"He didn't stay here long enough, he could have stayed longer," a laughing Carlos Lezcano said. "He's got very good tools, this kid has power from both sides. He's very athletic. He moves well. He played a pretty good shortstop for us. He did a pretty good job at shortstop in Double-A. He can always go back to second base, I think his best position might be a power guy on second base. He's got some tools, and he can hit with power from both sides."
Zawadzki played his final 92 games of the regular season in San Antonio. He hit .289 with 29 extra-base hits, scored 59 runs and collected 43 RBI. He also managed a 44-to-74 walk-to-strikeout ratio that resulted in a .372 on-base percentage.
"We have always seen the skill in Lance Zawadzki but we have not seen him put together two months, much less one month, together mainly because of health," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "With that being said, flow through the game being consistent. We have seen the top end of his game and the bottom end. We have never seen the consistency, whether that is because of health or just game performance. He has not only done it in Elsinore and put it together consistently, he has done it with pretty big numbers and done well defensively in San Antonio."
In the Arizona Fall League, Zawadzki reached base safely in all but one of his 25 games and ended the season with a 14-game hitting streak that included a multi-hit game in each of his final six and eight of his last nine. He hit .324 with 11 extra-base hits and 18 RBI.
The switch-hitter has worked hard on improving both his left- and right-handed swings. As a left-handed hitter, he has worked on improving his separation to get a bigger load. Holding his hands near his head on setup, he reaches them back as he transfers his weight to his back foot. He has also worked on dropping his hands an inch or two to get a more direct path to the ball while maintaining a short and compact stroke. There are times when he cuts his swing off short and does not led his hands follow through the ball.
"He's a guy that struggles with adjustments, very emotional," hitting coordinator Tony Muser said. "He's got great power from both sides of the plate, can really hurt you and takes pitches out of the strike zone to do it. He does more of what he wants to do in his efforts and doesn't quite understand what to do with what is presented to him when that real good pitcher is on the mound. If it's away from him, left-handed from a right-handed pitcher, that's all presented to him. He'll take a swing and try to pull the ball away from him or up in the strike zone and try to pull it, instead of just staying that way.
"His awareness, his aptitude and his understanding of better pitching and taking what the pitcher can give him and saying, ‘You know what, today I'm not going to get a pitch to drive out of the ballpark. My approach has to be I'm going to get two hits the other way to the left center.' A lot of that is knowledge and experience."
He has loft to his swing and has more power from the left side. Fifteen of his 17 homers came from the left side and 40 extra-base hits out of 57 also came while hitting left-handed.
As a right-handed hitter, his swing is more level and compact – conducive to line drives. It is more of a higher average swing that he employs. His hands are lower in his setup and his separation and load is not as pronounced. He is more aggressive from this side of the plate as well, as his strike zone comfort level is larger.
"I think his swing from the right side is better than it is from the left side," Franchuk said. "He flies off the ball and his lower half takes over from the left side. We worked on that. There were days when he was really good, and there were days when his effort level gets real high and his lower half kicks over and he flies off the ball."
"He's made great strides," former San Antonio and current Portland manager Terry Kennedy said. "I think he enjoyed the game more this summer than he had in the past. He hit, shoot, I think he hit close to .300 overall, and drove in a lot of runs, a lot of key runs for us, and played better short than he had in the past."
Zawadzki has a level of patience that could use improvement. He will chase outside the zone and gets out on his front foot too quickly in fastball counts, leaving him susceptible and off-balance to the off-speed pitch. Sitting back and waiting on a pitch to develop would give him an opportunity for pitch recognition and drive up his walk totals.
An above-average runner, the infielder found a tough time finding opportunities in the first half of the year as his power numbers went up. As a result, he was taking fewer chances when the opportunities were presented. He made an adjustment, realizing speed was still an asset and ended up stealing 14 bases in 15 attempts with San Antonio after going 3-for-4 with Lake Elsinore. He also added nine stolen bases in 12 attempts at the AFL.
He has great first-step quickness and can get to top speed quickly. He takes healthy leads and can read a pitchers' move towards home. Zawadzki also has a firm understanding of when to run – choosing good counts to get a favorable pitch.
A plus arm highlights his characteristics as a shortstop. He made 21 errors during the regular season and most of those were throwing errors. He continues to work on setting his feet and maintaining a proper balance point where his knees are flexed. When he stands too tall, the ball has a chance to go awry.
Because of his laser arm, Zawadzki has not been as aggressive in attacking the ball. He sits back and allows the play to come to him rather than reading the ball off the bat and can get caught too deep, hoping his arm makes up for the lost time in corralling the rock.
"That is the constant battle with him is to keep him aggressive and to not lay back on balls, that is when he gets himself in trouble," roving infield coordinator Gary Jones said. "He does have that bazooka for an arm, but as he moves up the ladder the game speeds up more.
"You may think the guys at the upper levels don't run out those balls, but they do. When the game speeds and you lay back on balls that is when you start getting those in-between hops and start making the errors. He's worked on it and is really doing very well. To me, the big key for him is being able to stay on the field. Also, he changed his mindset on his work habits and really goes out there everyday and improves at getting better defensively."
"He cut his errors in half and some of these errors he made with me were just silly errors and would just be eliminated through a solid thought process," Kennedy said.
Work habits have been questioned in the past. He has immense talent but has gotten by on innate ability prior to this season. His aloof nature can rub people the wrong way. It isn't that Zawadzki doesn't poor everything into his game but a lack of convergence in bringing all of his tools to the field each day.
"He's taking the ground balls in BP with a little more intensity, which helps him during the games," Jones said. "If you practice at the same intensity, which is close, its not going to be the same, but the closer you get the better off you are going to be.
"It's understanding that I have to work with a purpose, not that just this is what I am supposed to do. This year, he is really taking them with a desire to improve."
Zawadzki has struggled to maintain his weight through the season. Working hard on a proper diet is never easy during a minor league season. A plan, however, must be made to work through that.
"With Lance, his ability to focus was so much better this year that he was really able to incorporate what he was working on before the game into the game," Fuson said. "The only downside is I think the heat got to him a little bit in San Antonio at the end of the year; he lost a lot of weight."
"The tools are there," Muser said. "There's another kid that we pushed real quick. But he's got tools to hit. He's a good worker, great worker; he'll come around, his understanding. It will probably have to start out in Double-A next year, but he'll have a head start presenting himself to Double-A baseball. Great kid, has the ability to play shortstop."
"He's got a plus arm, he's got above-average speed," Franchuk said. "He's a switch-hitter with power. Another guy that if he didn't get to the big leagues, I'll be surprised. He needs to get better with not being to hard on himself and realizing that he's going to make some outs. He got better with that, though. He wasn't so hard on himself toward the end. We spent a lot of time talking about that. He expects to hit every time he goes to the plate."
Conclusion: Zawadzki is one of the few five-tool talents in the organization. Getting a consistent level of play from all of those attributes on a daily basis has been an issue. He needs to commit himself to improving each day. If he can implement that strategy, the sky is the limit for him. He has power, average ability, can run and play above-average defense. It is all there for the taking.
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