The Milwaukee Brewers completed a rather notable trade with the Seattle Mariners before Christmas, dealing away a man in Domingo Santana who had patrolled right field at Miller Park for the better part of the last four seasons. Much of the focus surrounding the trade has been in regards to the big leaguer that the Brewers received in return, but Milwaukee also acquired an intriguing, low-level pitching prospect as a part of the deal in addition to backup outfielder Ben Gamel.
Noah Zavolas wasn’t much of a professional prospect after his first three seasons as a pitcher for Harvard University. He tossed only a total of 12 innings during his freshman and sophomore seasons before earning finally earning a rotation spot as a junior, though in nine starts and 56.0 innings he yielded an ugly 5.95 ERA. That summer, though, Zavolas finally had his coming out party while pitching for the Wareham Gatemen of the prestigious Cape Cod League, a summer circuit for top collegiate players.
Zavolas made nine appearances (three starts) for Wareham, logging a total of 28.1 innings. He did so with a sparkling 0.64 ERA while allowing only 22 hits and four walks against 31 strikeouts. That success, and a newfound velocity increase, carried over to his senior season with the Crimson. Zavolas started 11 games during his final year at Harvard, and across an even 70.0 innings he posted a 2.96 earned run average with 77 strikeouts and 24 walks. The right-hander was not only named to the All-Conference Team, but he earned Ivy League Pitcher of the Year award, as well. He even twirled a no-hitter against Harvard’s most bitter rival, the school’s first no-no since 2001:
Zavolas’ senior season placed him firmly on the radar of Major League teams in this past summer’s draft, and he wound up getting selected by the Mariners in the 18th round. He inked for a mere $5K bonus as a senior sign and reported to short-season Class-A Everett to begin his career. Functioning as a multi-inning reliever, Zavolas covered 34.2 innings across 19 appearances for the Aqua Sox while continuing to adroitly prevent runs. Opponents managed only a .223 batting average against him as he kept the ball on the ground more than 50% of the time. By the time he earned a promotion to Class A-Advanced Modesto, Zavolas’ ERA stood at 3.38 and his K/BB ratio at 37:9.
Noah found action in three contests and threw four scoreless frames for the Nuts before the end of the regular season, bringing his totals across the two levels to a 3.03 ERA and 41:11 K/BB ratio in 38.2 innings pitched. Deserved Run Average viewed his work quite favorably, grading him as some 14% better than average (86 DRA-) during his first season as a professional.
Zavolas has garnered praise for his demeanor on the mound, which helps make up for a less than imposing physical stature. He stands at 6’1” and weighs in around 190 lbs. A double leg tap serves as a sort of timing mechanism in Zavolas’ delivery before he releases the ball from a relatively standard, high three-quarters arm slot.
He doesn’t overpower with the fastball, though unlike most other organizations, the Brewers have shown that they don’t place that heavy an emphasis on velocity. Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs notes that Zavolas sits in the 88-91 MPH range with his moving heater, and that his above-average changeup is his best secondary offering. Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball agrees that the change is Noah’s most effective pitch, adding that it helps his fastball play up. Zavolas’ two breaking balls are considered to be below-average at this point, but he throws his entire four-pitch arsenal with confidence.
For now, Zavolas is back at Harvard working as a research assistant in the English department, but he’ll look to begin making a name for himself within his new organization come February when the players report to Maryvale Baseball Complex in Arizona for Spring Training. At least the hurler, who turns 23 next May, can already count fellow Harvard alum GM David Stearns among his fans in the front office:
“Noah was someone we were interested in, in the draft, someone that Seattle happened to get to before we did. We had interest in him out of Harvard and he had a nice pro debut. We think he’s a nice young pitching prospect and we’re happy to add him to our organization.”
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus