When wanting to learn a skill, it is certainly better to learn from the master. This is the story of how Seby Zavala made himself into a professional baseball player. The number 20 prospect on William Shea’s White Sox Top 50 list (and #22 prospect according to MLB Pipeline) has done just that after not getting any nibbles from professional teams out of high school.
After a successful college career, Zavala raised himself to the 12th round and in only his fourth professional season, he reached Triple-A last year. “I was kind of in between a couple of schools out of high school,” Zavala said about weighing his post-high school options. “There were no draft prospects or anything. Tony Gwynn was at San Diego State and I thought if I could learn how to hit, I could be a pretty good baseball player.” Gwynn, who managed San Diego State for 12 seasons, is a huge figure in the city and at the school after becoming one of the greatest pure hitters in Major League history. Not only that, he provided a mentor for all of his players at the school, rather it be Zavala, up to hyped top draft picks like Stephen Strasburg.
Zavala gives Gwynn a huge amount of credit for getting his career being exactly where it is today, on the verge of the big leagues. “(Gwynn) had a big impact on my career,” Zavala said. “When I was out with Tommy John (in 2013), he would be in the dugout. Me and a couple of guys would just hang out with him and talk about all types of things, like situations that would happen in the game and stuff. It just helped open up my eyes and see it from a Hall of Famer’s perspective.”
While Gwynn shaped Zavala the ball player on the field, he had a major impact on Zavala the man off it. As many know, Gwynn battled cancer of a salivary gland. Unfortunately, in 2014, he lost that battle during Zavala’s tenure at the school. Zavala called Gwynn’s passing really tough, as he was a “big part of my life and baseball career.” He still has a tribute to Gwynn in the form of a tattoo on his arm. For his approach at the plate, it takes a familiar sound in how Gwynn went about his work over his illustrious career.
“I’m just trying to put solid at bats together,” Zavala said. “If I go into a game and barrel up a couple of baseballs every day, good things are going to happen throughout the year. I can just look up at my stats at the end of the year and I’ll have a good line.” That solid contact resulted in back-to-back seasons of 21 and 13 home runs and 21 and 22 doubles in 2017 and 2018. Over that span, Zavala progressed from Low-A to Triple-A.
The work to maintain those numbers stretches into the off season approach for Zavala as well. With his workout regimen, Zavala ended up losing weight this winter, even though that was not the intended goal. “(My off season) was just doing the same stuff,” Zavala said. “I just try to get as strong as possible. The weight part, it kind of just happened. It wasn’t really a focus, but I was trying to get as strong as possible.” While he battled a bit of wrist injury in the second half of the season last year, and a quad injury in Spring Training, Zavala said that he feels good now and is pleased to be off to a good start to the season.
Though he is battling former first round pick and teammate Zack Collins to earn the first promotion to the big leagues, Zavala said that they have a good relationship within their healthy competition. Earning the promotion to Triple-A last season, the White Sox appear to be giving Zavala the first shot at catching on the Southside. If the solid contact with the bat continues, expect to see that debut this summer. He’s off to a slow start in 2019 at Triple-A Charlotte, slashing .203/.258/.458 with 3 home runs in 14 games, but as the summer heats up, expect the bat to as well.