Trade between Miners, Diamondbacks believed to be first of its kind
An unprecedented move in the history of organized baseball has caused the Southern Illinois Miners to lose one of their top pitchers to the major leagues.
Clay Zavada, a lefthanded reliever with a 1.72 ERA in 12 appearances, will take his exceptional changeup and fastball to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the organization that drafted him two years ago before his father’s death caused a temporary change in career plans.
In return for taking care of one of their prospects, the Diamondbacks are sending first baseman Brad Miller to the Miners, a trade that shatters the invisible boundaries between the affiliated minor leagues and independent professional baseball for the first time.
“It’s never been done before,” said Miners manager Mike Pinto. “There’s never been a deal between a major league organization and an independent league club player for player. So it’s a good thing for us. The Diamondbacks are a class organization and to have any ties with them that could be longterm is certainly positive for us.”
Zavada was selected by Arizona in the 30th round of the 2006 Major League Draft and helped the Diamondbacks’ rookie affiliate in Missoula, Mont., win the Pioneer League championship while compiling a 3.47 ERA with 51 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 49 1-3 innings.
But the death of his father resulted in a year away from baseball in order to tend to his family’s farm and personal issues. The 23-year-old from Streator completed his degree at SIU-Edwardsville and joined the Miners in January as a free agent at the urging of the Diamondbacks.
“The plan all along was to come here and put up some decent numbers because they told me if I could show I was interested in getting back in baseball, and my head was in the right spot, that they’d take me back,” Zavada said. “And so far it’s been in the right spot.”
Zavada, who earned four saves after taking over the closer’s role for the injured Travis Hope, struck out 22 batters and walked just four in his short time with the Miners, taking full advantage of a changeup that buckles the knees of batters along with a zippy fastball.
“That,” teammate Brandon Jones said of the changeup, “is just the dirtiest pitch I’ve ever seen in my life.”
The key, according to Miners pitching coach Brad Hall, was Zavada’s ability to get ahead in the count and take control of each batter.
“He would throw that changeup at any count, which was good for him,” Hall said. “It was his bread and butter pitch. He’d throw that and then come in with a 90 mph fastball. He also has a cutter and with those three pitches — and being lefthanded with the stuff he’s got — it was only a matter of time before he got out of here.”
Zavada is being sent by the Diamondbacks to their Class A team in South Bend, Ind., for his first assignment, an ironic twist given it was South Bend which the Southern Illinois Baseball Group attempted to move to Marion before forming the independent club that exists today.
Miners second baseman Tony Roth, who has spent time in the Class A ranks, said without hesitation that Zavada would “carve batters up” at that level.
Zavada made it clear that he doesn’t plan to stay with the SilverHawks very long, hoping he can get promoted within the Diamondbacks’ organization and possibly get a chance at pitching in the major leagues.
“I’m happy, I’m humbled, and it’s still a long road,” he said. “I’m not satisfied yet. I’m not happy that I’m there. I’m obviously happy with the situation I’ve been put in, but I’m not satisfied. I want to move up as soon as I can. I don’t know if I can jump this year, but I sure would like to.”
Pinto has often referred to a situation like this as a “double-edged sword,” in that independent baseball teams often get hurt when a player receives a chance to shine on a bigger stage. But nobody was happier than Pinto about Zavada’s new opportunity.
“We’ll miss him,” Pinto said. “Lefties that throw 90 mph with a major league changeup are tough to find. At the same time, guys come here to get an opportunity to get to a major league organization. To put together a unique trade like we’ve been able to do with the Diamondbacks is great for him and we’re getting a very good player coming here in return.”
Miller, who stands 6-foot-5 and bats from the right side, smacked 22 home runs and drove in 91 runs while with South Bend last season. He was selected as a Postseason All-Star in the Midwest League for his efforts.
The 24-year-old from Muncie, Ind., is currently with the Visalia Oaks in the Class A Advanced California League, where he has hit five home runs in 59 games, although his average is just .178.
Miller, who played collegiately at Ball State, was selected by Toronto in the 49th round of the 2004 draft and again by Arizona in the 18th round in 2006, when in just 16 games with Yakima he hit 11 homers and drove in 53 runs.
“I’ve been told he plays exceptional defense and makes unbelievable plays at first base,” Pinto said. “He has a magnet glove and strong power. He’ll help us out in the middle of the order.”
Which likely means another roster move or possible trade is in the works over the next few days.
Miller doesn’t join the Miners until Saturday, however, when the club is in River City.
Zavada will already be gone.
“This is a great town to play in. I love all the fans,” Zavada said. “The Diamondbacks lived up to their word. They’re a quality program and I’m happy to be back with them.
“Same with this place here, it was top of the line. I made friends so quick and now I’m gone, but I’ll keep in touch with everybody. It’s going to be great.”
Herrin (Ill.) Spokesman