“Sox fans: the future is bright and hot like the Arizona sun in the middle of June. Just be patient a little longer. #KillerZs #AZL”
Before you start with the “Captain Obvious” remarks, I sent that bold,130-character statement into the Twitterverse in the summer of 2015 when I was midway through a fun season covering the Arizona League (AZL) White Sox for FutureSox. The rookie level club, diverse in age, experience, and nationality, was a team of grinders. You know the type: overlooked, undervalued, plays hard, works harder, and never loses sight of the goal. As a fan, you always root for them; as a player, you want them on your team because you know they’ll find a way to win. Manager Mike Gellinger, pitching coach Felipe Lira, and hitting coach Gary Ward led this team of winners to the final game of the season. The championship game featured a couple of kids who were both drafted in June and who shined bright when their team needed them the most: a 19-year old starting pitcher, and an 18-year-old first-baseman who was among the youngest in the league. Chris Comito was brilliant in his 5-innings pitched against the Mariners experienced lineup, and in a one-run game, Corey Zangari was equal to the moment as he made the catch in foul territory giving his team the championship and Comito the win. Hope was on its way!
As much fun as it was in the Arizona League, life was different back then for White Sox fans in Chicago. They cheered for a Robin Ventura-led team that played their games at “The Cell”; the starting rotation included a few lefthanders – John Danks, Jose Quintana, and Chris Sale, and a right-handed shark – Jeff Samardzija; the outfield was patrolled by guys named Melky and Spanky (Cabrera, Adam Eaton) and the clubhouse was still a welcoming environment for Adam LaRoche and his son. Sadly, the team was on its way to a third consecutive losing season; its 6th since winning it all in 2005. Not fun. Not easy for the loyal fan base.
General Manager Rick Hahn would add and subtract from the roster in Chicago, but nothing signaled a change until the Winter Meetings in 2016. That’s when mild-mannered brainiac GM Rick Hahn introduced the world to his alter ego, Wrangler Rick the Prospect Hoarder. Armed with a lasso custom made of waxed red thread, by Rawlings just for him, and rusty spurs loud enough to announce his arrival. Wrangler Rick appeared twice in three days that December, and though Sox nation was on high alert for his return throughout the season, the first jingle-jangle-well, you know, was heard as the trade deadline neared. Then, Wrangler Rick was reeling in prospects in loud succession, like a fireworks finale on the fourth of July. That’s the kind of flashy, over-the-top, brag-to-your-friends-at-recess-about kind of moves that this fan base has been waiting for and deserves.
But here’s the thing: even without Wrangler Rick’s shiny new additions, help was already heading north on Hope Highway. The best kind of help too – homegrown. It doesn’t get any better than watching the major league debut of a player drafted / signed and developed by the same organization. And, as they prove each June, the White Sox area scouts are very good at finding smart, talented athletes who check their egos at the door, do anything to help the team win, and will never be out-worked. They know what it takes to win, and they do it. It is impossible to not be excited about a team like that; a team like the AZL White Sox, with grinders like shortstop Danny Mendick and catcher Seby Zavala.
“GRINDERS ARE COMING BACK TO GLENDALE!”
When the White Sox announced who they were sending to the Arizona Fall League, I was thrilled that Danny Mendick and Seby Zavala were coming back to Glendale. I’ve watched them develop since they were drafted. I was at the 3rd game of the AZL season when Mendick, the kid who was raised in the cold and played baseball in the cold, hit his first career home run in 110-degree heat… at 8 o’clock at night. I’m also the one who named Zavala and teammate Corey Zangari the “Killer Zs” (because if one doesn’t hurt you the other will.) I looked forward to watching them again on a regular basis. However, I also understood the confusion by some fans. After the flashy new additions Wrangler Rick reeled in, some were hoping to see NAMES. Don’t sleep on homegrown future Sox. Do you remember watching Fernando Tatís Jr. with Zangari, Zavala and Mendick during the Fall Instructional League (Instructs) 2015? I do. That was good, homegrown talent on one field. But now Tatís is with the Padres and the Sox fans have James Shields – a NAME.
Don’t sleep on homegrown guys.
We’ll take a quick look at the Glendale Desert Dogs’ season in numbers then take a closer look at Mendick and Zavala individually.
ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE
The Arizona Fall League (AFL) is often referred to as the “finishing school for prospects” and is a product of Major League Baseball. For players who meet the eligibility requirements, it is also an option to make up plate-appearances or innings-pitched that were lost during the season.
First, some basics of the Arizona Fall League (AFL): http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/afl/index.jsp
- Begins the 2nd week of October ends the week before Thanksgiving
- Two divisions, 6 teams, each with prospects from 5 MLB organizations
- Glendale Desert Dogs
- Peoria Javelinas (“j” makes the “h” sound)
- Surprise Saguaros (pronounced: Suh-WAR’-ohs) The “g” is silent. Someone please tell the announcer on MLB Network before the promos for next fall. Thanks
- Mesa Solar Sox
- Salt River Rafters
- Scottsdale Scorpions
- Each team usually plays 6 games a week – never on Sundays
- 12:35pm & 6:35pm
- 30-ish scheduled games – varies a little each year
- Single elimination championship game
- GameDay is the only way to follow every game. Two game events are televised on MLB Network. Random broadcasts on satellite radio or streamed online as well.
- Games at Salt River Field have the most detailed pitch information; (type, velo, location, etc.) Others only ball/ strike on map location
- Statcast sometimes available to media on home runs but not available on GameDay
- Three additional events
- Bowman Hitting Challenge: Just before / within the first week
- **Fall Stars Game (MLB Network): 1st Saturday of November
- Championship Game (MLB Network): Saturday before Thanksgiving
- Ticket Information – Two options
- Season passes: May only purchase before the season begins. But the convenience of not waiting in line is worth it. Valid for all special events too (when ticket lines are VERY LONG.)
- Individual (only you)
- $100-ish for the season, attend 3 innings at one game, leave, catch the last 3 innings of another, then take in the night game. You can do that. Don’t quote me on the price though.
- FAMILY (up to 6 people) – THE ONLY WAY TO GO!!
- $175-ish? – again, don’t hold me to it. But a MUCH BETTER DEAL than the others
- TOTALLY TRANSFERABLE
- Make friends, share the pass
- Rescue some nice people waiting in line to buy their tickets, it will cost you nothing, but it will save them time and a little money
- Arrive and enter when gates open – an hour before first pitch
- Individual (only you)
- Season passes: May only purchase before the season begins. But the convenience of not waiting in line is worth it. Valid for all special events too (when ticket lines are VERY LONG.)
- Day-of game, stand in line, wait your turn, buy a ticket (Good news: they take cash or cards!)
- No, not even for special events or the championship game
- Buy a Family Pass
**FALL STARS GAME SELECTION CLARIFICATION: To avoid confusion as well as unwarranted attacks against anyone on the Fall League staff, the participants of the annual Fall Stars Game are pre-selected by the parent club. The White Sox chose left handed pitcher Jace Fry to represent the organization, but he did not appear in the game. There are two spots (one on each the East and the West roster) for the fans to vote on. The field staff is determined by the team leader in each division by a specified date, usually one week before the game – as a foreshadowing of the championship game match-up, the staff from Peoria and Mesa led the West and East teams respectively, with the East scoring 3 in the bottom of the 8th and winning 4-2. The line-ups are also predetermined and no longer in the hands of each division manager. This year more than ever, I saw criticism directed at the Arizona Fall League staff regarding this event. I’m basically telling anyone who has a problem with it to direct it to the MLB organization and let the AFL staff do their jobs. Thank you!
GLENDALE DESERT DOGS
Each MLB organization is represented by 7 players on a roster at one time. The White Sox assigned a total of 8 including Mendick and Zavala. Pitchers Dylan Covey, Matt Foster, Jace Fry, and Connor Walsh, and outfielders Tito Polo and Charlie Tilson, who filled Polo’s spot in late October.
Playing time is distributed as evenly as possible. However, roster spots occupied by those who missed innings or at-bats during the regular season or who are transitioning to a new position are the priority at their position. Glendale’s shortstop duties were split evenly between Mendick and Pirates’ Kevin Kramer. Dodgers’ catching prospect, Will Smith was the priority catcher with 17 games behind the plate, after missing the 2nd half of the season (HBP in the hand in his debut with AA-Tulsa.) Phillies’ Edgar Cabral barely edged out Zavala catching one more game – 7 and 6 respectively.
Desert Dogs play their home games in the stadium at Camelback Ranch and rotate the use of home dugouts and clubhouses as they do in the other shared facilities (Surprise, Salt River and Peoria.) Unfortunately for this year’s Glendale team, 2017 was their turn to use the Dodgers 3rd base / spring training home dugout, which thanks to its south-facing position, is like sitting on the face of the sun during day games in October/November. Never mind the fact that there is little respite from the sun anywhere in the stadium, at least the 1st base / White Sox home dugout faces east and is the best option for eventual shade. A physical setting made even worse as there were only day games played in Glendale this season. The only team – and location – without a night game at home was, ironically, the one it would have benefited the most.
TEAM STATS: The final team numbers for Glendale include the production from prospects in the White Sox, Dodgers, Indians, Phillies, and Pirates organizations. If the Desert Dogs finished the season in the top half of the 6-team league, their rank is indicated below. Glendale finished strong, with a 7-game winning streak and weren’t eliminated from winning the West until the final days of the fall.
Hitting – and power-hitting, at that – was popular everywhere in 2017, the Arizona Fall League was no exception. Averaging, per game: 4.33 home runs, 83 total bases, and a .737 OPS. Only the 2011 powerhouse league and its 37-game schedule registered more offense per game than this group. But as you’ll see, both Mendick and Zavala represented the organization and the area scouts who recommended / signed them (Joel Grampietro & George Kachigian) exceptionally well. Big league starter Dylan Covey and High-A Winston-Salem hitting coach Charles Poe agree.
Covey returned to the Fall League after a spectacular 2016 with the Mesa Solar Sox, where he represented the Oakland A’s. His 4+ perfect innings in the AFL championship game, on the heels of starting a combined no-hitter against Michael Kopech and company, might have had something to do with the White Sox claiming him in the 2016 Rule 5 draft. He returned to the AFL for three outings after missing time this season with a back issue. The former University of San Diego Torero (whose teammates included White Sox’ Louie Lechich and Cubs’ Kris Bryant) had nothing but praise for his fellow Sox / Desert Dogs, whom he got to know and respect this fall, “… [Mendick and Zavala] are both awesome; great guys and teammates!”
Dylan reminded me of the “San Diego connection” that he and Zavala share. They faced each other once, in March 2012. Seby, in his first year at San Diego State grounded out to 2nd base.
Charles Poe knows a little something about the White Sox farm system. Drafted by Chicago in the 6th round of the 1990 draft out of West Covina High School, California he played for 6 years before moving on to Oakland and San Diego. As a coach / manager “C-Poe” as he’s better known, is an instant favorite of everyone he meets. Mention his name and fans throughout baseball will smile and share the impact he’s made on their lives. C-Poe spent a week in Glendale this fall, not on the field but in the stands with other club personnel watching their guys perform. C-Poe knows both Mendick and Zavala very well. Mendick spent the first half of 2017 with him before being named to the Carolina League All Star Game and then on to AA Birmingham. Zavala arrived in Winston-Salem after being named to the South Atlantic League All Star Game. At the time of his promotion from Kannapolis, Seby led the league in home runs.
“They [Seby and Danny] put themselves on the map this year with how they produced at Winston-Salem. In order to be successful in the Carolina League, you must be successful putting the ball in play.” Poe explains, “We work on hitting the ball hard up the middle consistently, then hitting high line drives, consistently, and if we do those things, consistently, the home runs take care of themselves.”
Watching how the boys took batting practice, the positioning of their hands, especially on pitches that were mid-away, was one area C-Poe monitored. He was very pleased with what he saw. “Mendick responded really well; great job; and Seby, well, he can hit’ [laughs] ‘he can hit. And he hits to all fields.” Check and double check those items off C-Poe’s list.
Matt Cassidy, of FutureSox, wrote a great piece on Mendick and his adventurous couple of years. One paragraph explains Mendick and his path better than a million words ever could. Matt writes, “The Barons still have a handful of games to finish, then it’s on to Arizona for Danny. There he’s going to face some very tough arms, but also get some time in the spotlight. He won’t be the guy getting the most attention there, but that’s a position he’s familiar with.”
If you aren’t familiar with Danny Mendick’s adventurous 2016 season. Here’s a quick recap: he appeared in games at 3 levels (Low-A, High-A, Triple-A) and assigned to a different level 8 times in three months with the bulk of it during a 3-week-period at the end of June. He was in a state of flux more than he was in North Carolina. Even if baseball players weren’t already creatures of habit, this certainly showed that along with everything, Danny has mastered the soft skill of adapting-on-the-fly, as his production varied very little. Commendable especially as it was his first full professional season. Matt Cassidy tells Mendick’s story in detail. Give it a read. http://www.chicagonow.com/future-sox/2017/08/prospect-focus-danny-mendick-on-the-move/
So, how did the former UMass-Lowell River Hawk do? Let’s take a look below, with his team rank noted below:
For a broader look, with a breakdown of games played at the shortstop position, here’s how the top producing players (identified as SS) fared offensively. Glendale’s shortstops are highlighted.
TOP 3 PRODUCTIVE GAMES:
3) November 16 at Salt River Rafters, playing 3rd base. Final game of the fall. Went 3-for-5, scored 2 runs and drove in one. He led off the 4th inning with in a way that is quintessentially Danny: hit a grounder to 3rd and he was bustin’ his you-know-what to first, as always and he was called safe on a really – really – close play. It’s easy to take that kind of hustle for granted. Mendick sets the standard high for his performance and he meets it every time he takes the field.
2) November 11 at Scottsdale Scorpions playing shortstop. Went 2-for-4 including his 4th double of the campaign, scored 2 runs and drove in 2 more. What you won’t see in the box score is the distraction he is to the pitchers when he’s on base. He’s smart about when he attempts to snag an extra bag and the pitchers who’ve faced him during the regular season know it. It’s just enough to keep them off balance, giving the hitter behind him a better opportunity to get on base. He didn’t steal a base this game, but it felt like he did. Good job, by him.
1) October 26 at Surprise Saguaros, only game playing 2nd base. Went 2-for-4, including a home run off Cardinals righthander, Jordan Hicks, with 2 runners on base, and even stole his 3rd base of the fall. In March, the White Sox will travel to Surprise to play the Rangers and Royals one time each. If I were Rick Renteria and company, I’d add Danny to the traveling squad.
Here’s the video of his home run, thanks to Will Boor (MLB Pipeline/ MLB.com) for the footage. Exit velocity 105 https://twitter.com/wboor/status/923654013857316864
HIS SEASON IN CHARTS
Many thanks to Daren Willman / BaseballSavant.com for the charts.
Prior to the AFL Championship Game, Director Steve Cobb announced the finalists, and presented awards to the winners, of two awards. Danny Mendick was announced as a finalist for the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award and though the winner was Eric Filia from the Mariners, Mendick should feel proud being a finalist. The award was created in 2004 in memory of former AFL player Dernell Stenson, who died during the previous Fall League season. According to the AFL, “One player is selected who best exemplifies Stenson’s character on and off the field: unselfishness, hard-work and leadership.” Congratulations to Danny, to the recipient Eric Filia and to the other nominees. May winning the Stenson Award be the goal of every player, each fall league season.
During the pregame festivities, I caught up with an area scout I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. We paused to hear the Stenson finalists, and when Mendick’s name was announced, the veteran evaluator said,
“I saw Mendick the summer before he was drafted, Liked him a lot. He’s worked his ass off for every opportunity. You know what else I remember about him? He was always smiling. Classy lookin’ kid, too. Like he could be a CEO of a company. He’d be dangerous too; like a stealth grinder. His competitors wouldn’t expect him to be so tough, but he is…he’s a grinder. Saw him a few times this week, and he’s the same. Still smiling. Good defense, good bat, good on the bases. Good hustle.”
I assumed he was elaborating because he knew of my connection with Danny. He did not. He was just giving me an honest evaluation, and I was delighted to be wrong.
Danny is a fan-favorite everywhere he goes. He has a business degree from UMass-Lowell and a blue-collar work ethic from his parents. He is kind, light-hearted, and respectful; he’s also quick to smile and make eye-contact with fans, teammates and members of the media. And, if that isn’t enough to win over even the biggest curmudgeon, his uniform is always clean… until the umpire yells “play ball!”
Want another reason why fans in Glendale, Kannapolis, Winston-Salem, Birmingham, and Charlotte are rooting for him? Ask Tiffany, a great fan in the Carolina League. She loves the game, knows the players and is pretty good at picking good ones to follow. She checked in with me as soon as the AFL rosters were announced; her excitement that both Mendick and Zavala were given the opportunity to make their mark on a bigger stage was tempered only by the fact that their draft cohort, lefty hitting outfielder, Tyler Sullivan who, like Mendick probably had to tip the clubbies a little more because of how dirty their uniforms would get, wasn’t with them. Coincidentally, Tyler’s brother – and Rays catching prospect Brett Sullivan was selected to represent Tampa Bay and, until Tyler signs with a new team, will be the recipient of Tiff’s support.
Fans like Tiffany – knowledgeable, consistent, positive – are appreciated by the players, staff, and especially by the players’ families more than they will ever know. Danny and Seby took a moment to thank Tiff for her loyalty and support. It was a spontaneous expression of gratitude and that’s it. Quality human beings recognizing their own kind.
A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT DANNY
Aside from Joel Grampietro, the area scout who signed him, you could say that Mendick’s path to the pros was made possible by the Atlanta Braves and the Durham Bulls. Indirectly, that is.
Durham, North Carolina, 1990: free-agent infielders Dave Brust and Ken Harring were teammates in the Atlanta Braves organization and spent the season with then-High-A Bulls. Their skipper was former MLB manager, Grady Little, and they shared the field with eventual big leaguers Mike Mordecai, Ryan Klesko, Eddie Perez, and Pedro Borbon. Brust returned for the 1991 season, while Harring was released, but the two New Yorkers stayed in touch as they began their college coaching careers, and Danny Mendick is happy they did.
Mendick wasn’t recruited in high school; wasn’t invited to participate in the showcases that catapult your exposure. He also understood that if he wanted to be a success, he would have to outwork / out hustle everyone else. He played two years at Monroe Community College, and was en route to winning a championship when his coach at MCC, Dave Brust, got a call from friend that would change Mendick’s life.
The UMass-Lowell River Hawks ended the 2013 season and their Division II membership, in desperate need of a starting shortstop. Head Coach Ken Harring called his old Durham Bulls’ teammate, “Brusty”, who was now the head coach at Monroe Community College taking his Tribunes to the Division II Region III championships explaining his need for a shortstop. Harring had a choice, but after watching Mendick prepare and then play in a championship game, it was an easy decision as to who the River Hawks head coach wanted on his team, especially in their inaugural Division I season. Danny agreed. Two weeks later, he was on campus with his parents and younger sister for his official visit. Six months after that, and to no one’s surprise, Danny etched his name in UML’s history when he recorded the team’s first hit as a Division 1school.
However, it’s a lesson involving Mendick’s preparation and work ethic that will be most impactful to current and future River Hawks baseball players, at least as long as Ken Harring is there. Here’s the skipper sharing the story from May 2014, a few weeks before the MLB Draft.
“We were getting ready to play the University of Hartford and their starter was Sean Newcomb, a projected first round pick. Scouts were out in droves to watch him. As I headed up the stadium stairs to turn on the BP music, a group of scouts stopped me and asked, “Who is your shortstop?” I said, “Danny Mendick. Why?” They were so impressed with his pregame routine and how he took every ground ball during batting practice at game speed. He was diving all over the place as if he were playing in a game. They noticed his motor right away and how he set an example for his teammates. I use this story all the time when talking to my current team, or when I am speaking to young kids. You never know when someone is watching. “
In his senior season, Mendick was the River Hawks’ leader in RBIs (30) doubles (16) and total bases (71). His signature defense and hustle still give evaluators cause to debate which side of his game is strongest. Coach Harring can argue in support of both sides, “He’s special…just special.”
Can’t argue with logic like that.
Harring and Mendick are in regular contact throughout the year. If Danny is in a slump, Ken listens then offers a simple (secret) reminder and, Voila, like magic, Mendick is back to being a menace on the bases!
At the end of 2015, Joel Grampietro, the area scout who found and signed Danny, was recognized by the White Sox as their scout of the year. Coincidence? You tell me.
George Kachigian served his country for 32 years as a member of the US Navy before he started a career in baseball. as a coach and part time scout in San Diego for the Chicago Cubs. In 1985 he lobbied for them to draft a first baseman in the 24th round from San Diego State named Mark Grace. A few years later he signed on as a full-time area scout with the White Sox where he’s been for almost 30 years. Among those Kachigian has signed for the Sox include: LHP Royce Ring (1st rd, 2002), 1B/OF slugger Chris Carter (15th rd, 2005), OF Trayce Thompson (2nd rd, 2009), LHP Addison Reed (3rd rd, 2010), and catcher Seby Zavala, 12th round pick from 2015.
I asked Kachigian for a comp for Zavala. He said Yankees All-Star catcher, Silver Slugger and 4-time World Series champ, Jorge Posada. George also used the word “clutch” several times when sharing both what he saw in Seby before the draft and how he envisions him as a big leaguer. He clarified that it doesn’t always mean a walk-off home run, maybe it’s a line drive up the middle to keep the inning alive, or one of his two-out, double-digit plate appearances resulting in a base on balls. Those were his words more than 2 years ago, and all I can say is: NAILED IT! The more Seby reveals himself to the baseball world, the more the baseball world sees how good George Kachigian is at finding diamonds in the draft.
The relationships he has with his pitching staffs – high school to fall league – are rooted in respect and trust. They know he’s a grinder, they see what he does and how he prepares for it. They know how mentally strong he is, which is exceptionally greater than his physical strength. Starters and relievers know he carefully studies opposing hitters and identifies their weaknesses. As a receiver. Seby is quiet and smooth. He works with the strike zone and presents the pitch to support his batterymate’s efforts (only wants credit where credit is due), not to mislead the umpire. He’s got a canon to throw out runners, and more importantly, he understands the importance of timing and how it applies to hitting and baserunning which makes him a literal buzz-kill to would-be base-stealers. He fields his position with great accuracy, and when it’s his turn to hit, he’s going to maximize every pitch he sees and he’s probably going to be responsible for a couple of runs each game.
Though it would not have been his preference to return to Kannapolis to start the 2017 season, Seby knew it was the only way he’d be able to play every day. The fact that his path is blocked by a 1st round pick could have bruised his ego, especially since Seby was drafted first. But, like Mendick, he’s a grinder. They don’t indulge in the distraction of their egos, grinders maintain laser-focus on their goals. That’s what he did and in two months, he was the league leader in home runs and named a South Atlantic League All Star. After the game he was promoted to Winston-Salem where, on the very first pitch he saw at that level, he hit it over the fence in left center field for a grand slam. He homered the next day, too, because, why wouldn’t he?
Charles Poe was now Zavala’s hitting coach. “Seby has always been a good fast ball hitter. Always had a good eye. He tracks the ball well, knows the strike zone really well, even better than the…” He stops himself, laughs a little, then continues, “…let’s just say he knows the strike zone very well. But anytime he needed it, we’d work together on breaking balls with the machine. He would beat me to the field and be waiting for me, so we could work. That’s how he is. “
Poe made a point of mentioning the connection between Zavala and Eloy Jimenez from the first day they became teammates. Jimenez and two others were the return for Jose Quintana from the Cubs. Winston-Salem was playing a series against Myrtle Beach at the time of the trade, so they simply changed clubhouses to begin the new chapter with their new organization. “It was like they [Zavala and Jimenez] were lifelong friends or family from when they first met. They connected and talked about hitting at a level that only they could. They were good for each other.”
Let’s look at Seby’s Fall League production from 13 games; 6 as catcher, 7 as the DH. He was paired with Dodgers’ right-hander, Andrew Sopko for three outings, Pirates’ lefty starter Taylor Hearn for two, and Pirates phenom Mitch Keller for one. Below the categories are his rankings in top 5 of the team. With only 46 at-bats / 54 plate appearances, Zavala did not qualify to be considered for league comps.
TOP 3 PRODUCTIVE GAMES:
3) November 16 at Salt River Rafters final game of the season with Taylor Hearn as his batterymate. Went 1-for-3, scored a run and walked twice, but his arm was put to the test with the first Rafters baserunner; they were off and running. I suspect it was part of the final game antics that are common and usually fun to watch. The track meet on the bases was familiar to Zavala who experienced the same conditions the first half of the 2016 season with Kannapolis. The Rangers’ affiliate, Hickory Crawdads, should have been renamed the Roadrunners with how much they ran the bases against all their South Atlantic League opponents. Seby was so vigilant in stopping runners that he led all catchers in baseball (major and minor leagues) in the number of runners caught. The final game had that feel to it.
2) October 13 at Surprise Saguaros first game behind the plate and catching Andrew Sopko. Went 2-for-4 with 2 hard-hit doubles, the first one he drove in with 2 on and 2 out and scoring a run. As if that weren’t enough, in the bottom of the 9th, after a lead-off home run to bring Surprise within one, and a walk, Zavala stays focused after the batter swings and misses for the first out and nails the runner trying to advance to 2nd. Two outs, bases cleared for the next batter to ground out and end the game. In only his 2nd appearance of the fall, Seby impressed MLB Pipeline Jonathan Mayo enough to interview him as the highlighted player of the game. As he returned to the press box, Mayo echoed what most say after their first conversation with Zavala; he probably never got in trouble in school for talking too much.
1) October 26 at Surprise Saguaros behind the plate with Sopko on the mound. Went 2-for-4, scored twice including a 3 run home run with two outs in the 9th inning off Royals’ lefty Matt Tenuta. This coming only 4 innings after teammate Mendick hit his first and only 3-run home run of the campaign.
It’s not just the fact that he hit a home run that makes this the #1 performance, Zavala’s ability to hit with power is a given. For instance, when he was promoted to High A Winston Salem mid-summer, leading the SAL in home runs, when he came to the plate the first time, the bases were loaded and two outs. He turned on the first pitch he saw and sent it over the fence for a grand slam. (after leading the SAL in home runs)
As I heard from everyone who was at Surprise Stadium that day, “it wasn’t just a “no-doubter”. It was “LLLLLAUNCHED…with, like 5 “L”s” according to a pitcher on the opposing team. My favorite, though, came from the farm director of an opposing team (where power hitters are the norm). He had been at the October 13th game at Surprise, as well. Saw Zavala’s two hard hit doubles and defensive skills on full display. He said he could see that he had, “some kind of power” but, “Kim, [pause for effect] the sound off the bat, the ease of his swing, it cleared the grassy area [berm] and hit a building and then concrete…in a hurry! Just thankful no one got hurt. It was…something!”
With that description, I had to find the details. Oh boy, he wasn’t kidding! Thankfully, Will Boor with MLB com and MLB Pipeline was in attendance and asked for the specifics of Seby’s home run. Unfortunately, information for reference is limited; thankful Will was at Surprise and later tweeted the information, here: https://twitter.com/wboor/status/923669998790361088
I spent a lot of time imagining how it must have looked and where it landed, so I did even more digging. I also found on baseballsavant.com the numbers and some videos of MLB home runs so I looked for the most comparable to all three areas of Seby’s bomb.
In an attempt to make you feel like you were there, too, here are two versions of the stadium. Dimensions are 350 to right and left fields, 379 in right center and left center, and 400 to straightaway center.
The closest home run video I found was this by Giancarlo Stanton at Marlins Park in August 2017. Measured 460 feet with an exit velo of 114 and a 33 degree launch angle. Pretty impressive.
BOWMAN HITTING CHALLENGE
The first fall league event is the hitting skills challenge presented by Bowman cards. One player from each MLB organization that wishes to send a representative, gets one opportunity to make the most of their single round competition. While it’s not a home run derby, the team representative is typically a more skilled, power hitter. Zavala was the White Sox’ entrant at Sloan Park.
The photos below lay out the flow and details of the event. Each batter starts with 4 bunts, then swings for 2 minutes to hit obstacles on the field as well as hit home runs. Top three point-scorers from each the National League and the American League were displayed on the video board throughout the evening. Zavala’s 2,100 points led the AL for most of the night and was only surpassed by Minnesota Twins’ first baseman Chris Paul (2.700). Top three in each division were recognized at the completion of the event. Twenty-seven of the 30 teams were represented and
I recorded Zavala’s session and wasn’t surprised at all that he did so well. While there were more well-known participants (Dodgers DJ Peters, Athletics’ Sheldon Neuse, Indians Francisco Mejia etc.) the crowd support favored the White Sox catcher.
Many thanks to Daren Willman / BaseballSavant.com for the charts – and everything morsel of data they provide!
A LITTLE MORE ABOUT SEBY
Zavala knows what it takes to win at every level of competition. The San Gabriel Valley native and lifelong Dodger fan, finished his high school career with a championship game at Dodger Stadium. The Lancers from Bishop Amat High School shut out the reigning state division champs from Palm Desert, led by the son of Dodger legend Steve Garvey, by a score of 7-0. Even a pre-game speech by Hall of Fame Dodger manager, “Uncle Tommy” Lasorda could do little against Amat and the battery of LHP Daniel Zamora and Seby Zavala, and a 2-run home run off the bat of Rio Ruiz. The same three names currently playing professional baseball: Zamora in the Pirates organization and Ruiz with the Braves.
Four years later Seby was named MVP of the Mountain West Conference Tournament after a record-tying 5 home runs in 7 games. More importantly, he and his San Diego State teammates won their 2nd consecutive conference title and their first since losing their beloved coach, Tony Gwynn, to cancer. “Mr. Padre” as he was called by many was one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game, and one of the first to optimize the use of video for his self-improvement. As the Aztecs head coach, he had a built-in video department – otherwise known as injured players who couldn’t take the field. After recording each game, the video staff and Coach Gwynn would spend hours breaking down each plate-appearance to help their teammates on the field for the next game. They also talked philosophy and strategy – both relating to hitting, the game of baseball, and to life. Imagine what one – just one – of those sessions must have been like? The height and depth of thinking and understanding, and then implementing what you’ve learned into your game – and your life – would be invaluable. And to Zavala, who spent the 2013 season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery (Ulnar Collateral Ligament replacement procedure) the time spent absorbing every word from Coach Gwynn and then putting it in practice in 2014 and 2015 was like earning a Ph.D. in Hitting.
The relationship between a great coach and their players is always special on an individual level. Seby’s bond with Coach Gwynn was no different. After his passing in 2014, Seby and a few others from the team memorialized their coach with a tattoo – each one different but with the same intent. Zavala also wears uniform number 19 whenever possible to honor his coach. Number 19 was retired by the Chicago White Sox in 1987 in honor of 7-time all-star pitcher Billy Pierce who passed away in 2015. Seby wore #24 on the Glendale Desert Dogs and wore number 21 with the AZL White Sox his rookie year.
ONE MORE THING
Looking ahead to spring training, if there’s an opportunity to call up from minor league camp on March 3rd or 8th, I would choose the two Desert Dogs if I were Renteria and company.
As my conversation with the delightful Charles Poe was winding down, after recanting the stats and strengths of Mendick and Zavala one more time, Poe paused for a moment, then said, “…but you know the best thing about both of those young men? The kind of people they are. That’s what I like best.”
I couldn’t agree more.