In January 2021, the San Diego Padres signed several international players, including Samuel Zavala.
The Venezuelan native was ranked 37th on Baseball America’s top 50 international prospect list, garnering a $1.2 million signing bonus.
The now 18-year-old is listed as 6-foot-1, and 175 pounds. He plays the outfield, mostly in center field. His defensive tools do project him to stay in center, but there are improvements he will be expected to make.
His primary tool, however, is his bat. Multiple national scouts agree Zavala’s hit tool is very advanced for his age, and he even showed more power upon his promotion to Low Single-A Lake Elsinore.
Zavala started his Padres career in 2021 for the Dominican Summer League Padres. He put his advanced hit tool on display, earning .400 OBP, .887 OPS, and 144 wRC+ in 55 games, according to Fangraphs.
The knock on him was a lack of power; he only hit three home runs in those 55 games and 235 plate appearances. If Zavala can’t hit for average power, it limits his ceiling as a prospect. His speed, defense, and arm strength grade out as average, so he really has only one plus tool.
However, centerfielders that play good defense and are above-average hitters are hard to come by at the major league level. Even without average power, he would still project to be a regular MLB starter. He just wouldn’t have the same appeal to opposing GMs in a trade situation. His ability to reach that high-end prospect value will hinge on his ability to hit for power while still keeping his contact rate high.
Fast forward to 2022, and Zavala spent a mere ten games in the Arizona Complex League, followed by a promotion to Low Single-A Lake Elsinore. Injuries during the season limited him to 33 games. However, Zavala hit an impressive seven home runs in that short time. Lake Elsinore is not a hitter’s ballpark either, with its expansive gaps in the outfield.
It’s a rather small sample size, but at the very least, the power numbers are encouraging. It’s even more encouraging when considering at 17, he’s four years younger than the league average. This sample size was more than enough to get scouts talking.
In fact, Keith Law ranked Zavala at 94 on his 2023 Top 100 Prospects lists. He raved about him in his write-up. “He has absurd bat speed, rifling the bat through the zone with big hip rotation for hard contact and power, while he’s already shown unusual plate discipline for his age, especially when it comes to laying off pitches out of the zone.”
Last week on the EVT Podcast with Dominic Stearn and Sammy Benbow, Law added, “He can hit, he can REALLY hit… He’s showing a good approach. He is hitting the ball hard, especially for someone so young… he doesn’t chase.” He also claimed to have heard from other teams Zavala is a “must-acquire” should he become available in trade. Those are very positive words from an industry leader.
All in all, Samuel Zavala appears to be yet another great signing by President of Baseball Operations, A.J. Preller.
Zavala projects as a center fielder with an advanced hit tool that could find himself at Petco Park in just a few short years.
Lifelong Padre fan born and raised in San Diego, currently living in Temecula. The editors make me sound smart.