So far in his brief and active tenure with the Milwaukee Brewers, Slingin' David Stearns has added plenty of talent to the lower levels of the minor league system. He got back three teenage pitchers in the Adam Lind trade, swindled Isan Diaz away from the Diamondbacks as part of the Jean Segura deal, and yet another teenage arm in Trey Supak from Pittsburgh. Again last week, Stearns and the Brewers made another addition to the lower levels of their farm system.
The Brewers have signed RHP Jorge Zavala and assigned him to extended spring training in Phoenix.— Brewers Player Dev (@BrewersPD) April 7, 2016
Now normally, a late spring signing of a minor league free agent that's not even going to start with an affiliated team wouldn't be worth a second look. But after taking a look at Jorge Zavala's brief career numbers in the low minors, I was intrigued enough to do some further digging.
Jorge Zavala was signed by the Braves as an 18 year old international free agent out of Honduras back in 2012. He's pitched a total of 152.1 innings across 80 appearances (eight starts), allowing just a 2.84 ERA and 3.11 FIP. Zavala has a knack for missing bats with a nearly 26% career strikeout rate, and struck out he 55 batters in 43.1 innings last season in between low-A and high-A while posting a 2.28 ERA.
Unfortunately Zavala also has issues locating his pitches, which have been exacerbated in recent seasons and could be the one of the reasons that the Braves parted ways with him. After walking 2.8 batters per nine innings from 2013-14, that number spiked to 5.4 per nine last season - or 13.5% of the hitters that he faced.
Zavala is an imposing figure on the mound and stands at 6'4" and is pushing 200+ lbs. According to Ben Chase of Tomahawk Take, Zavala throws from a 3/4 arm slot though he's got inconsistent extension and has difficulty repeating his delivery. That's not an uncommon issue for taller pitchers and is likely the main culprit for his difficulties in pounding the strike zone.
The Honduran hurler features a heavy sinking fastball that generally sits in the low-90s, topping out in the 93 MPH range. His gets plenty of sink down and to the arm side and generates plenty of ground balls with on the fastball. He complements that with a "Bugs Bunny" curveball that varies in velocity from the upper-60s to mid-70s. The curve is his strikeout pitch, but he has a tendency to bury it in the dirt which contributes to his high walk total. He also rarely throws a changeup that he has shown poor feel for, so with his two-pitch mix his future role should remain in the bullpen.
Zavala certainly fits into the mold of the big bodied, ground ball heavy pitchers that the Brewers have targeted in recent seasons. They will be hoping that they can iron out some of the 21 year old's (22 in June) command issues, but if they are able to get him to pound the strike zone more consistently he could conceivably become a major league contributor within the next few seasons. He's already had success in preventing runs at the high-A level in spite of his command issues, meaning that once he gets some work in down in extended spring training he could be ticketed for the bullpen in Brevard County or even AA Biloxi.
This minor league signing is quite a low-risk proposition for the Brewers, but one that has a realistic chance of yielding some future value. Zavala's ceiling may not be much more than a middle reliever, but he's young enough that he could still have a breakout and as they say, you can never have too much pitching.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs