Another day, another waiver claim by Dayton Moore and the Kansas City Royals.

Another day, another utility infielder added to the 40-man roster.

This time, the acquisition is in the form of Lance Zawadzki, a 25 year old shortstop in the San Diego Padre organization.  He made his major league debut last summer and appeared in just 20 games.

A year ago at this time, Zawadzki held some promise.  He bashed 15 home runs in 2009, which helped propel him onto more than a few Padre prospect lists.  At Baseball Prospectus, Kevin Goldstein ranked him as San Diego’s sixth best minor leaguer, and said in a perfect world, Zawadzki would be a solid, if unspectacular middle infielder.

Zawadzski brings a lot of offensive skills to the table for a middle infielder, as he has a good approach, plus bat speed, and surprising power for the position, projecting to hit 12-16 home runs annually in the big leagues. He’ll never win a Gold Glove at shortstop, but he’s solid enough, and his arm is well above average.

Baseball America noted Zawadzski’s ability to throw across the diamond, as he was touted as having the Padres best infield arm.  He fell just outside of the top ten (15), but earned consideration.

He’s not an overly physical player, but he has two outstanding tools — three if you want to count flexibility — that will get him big league looks. Zawadzki has impressive pop from both sides of the plate and an absolute cannon of an arm. The power will play up the middle and the arm keeps him alive on the left side of the infield… He could offer significant value to the Padres by filling in at third, second and short, settling at one position occasionally to fill in for injured players.

In their 2006 draft wrap, Baseball America noted Zawadzki’s arm graded at a 70 on the 20-80 scale and there was some talk of actually moving him behind the plate.

John Sickels rated him as the 11th best prospect in the Padres system and graded him as a C+:

At worst he could be a very good utility guy, but there’s some chance he could develop into a decent regular.

This all sounds just fine.  It looks like we’re discussing a solid, if unspectacular middle infielder.  A little power and a cannon for an arm.  Not too bad, all things considered.

Then, 2010 happened.

After a 2009 season where he hit a combined .285/.369/.456 between High-A and Double-A, Zawadzki’s progress stalled in a big way in 2010.  He opened the season in Triple-A, earned himself a brief call to the majors (despite hitting .162/.240/.176 in 75 plate appearances) and then finished the season in Double-A.  Overall, he hit a discouraging .225/.291/.316 in a combined 409 plate appearances.

Zawadzki appears to have decent plate discipline, walking in 10% of his minor league plate appearances.  That’s not great, but on the Royals having a double digit walk rate is cause for celebration.  However, that number dropped to 8% last year as he split time between Double and Triple A.

Then, there was his precipitous drop in power.  Extra base hits represented a full 33% of his hit total in 2009.  Last year, that dropped to 26%.  And that meant he lost a whopping 140 points off his slugging percentage.

With Minor League Splits down, it’s difficult to find a statistical cause behind this drop in production.  Was he overmatched by Triple-A pitching?  Did he get off to a slow start and continue to press?  Did he hit a bunch of line drives right at fielders?

Still, the Padres gave up on him, which is saying something as San Diego isn’t necessarily flush with middle infielders.

(Quick aside: Zawadzki hit a home run against Aaron Crow in Crow’s professional debut last year in the AFL.)

Although after not exactly bashing the Joaquin Arias claim (but being less than thrilled) I’m good with the claim of Zawadzki.  Unlike Arias he has some power and has a plus arm.  Also, Zawadzki walks almost twice as much.  I know the Royals are extremely hung up on getting a replacement for the dearly departed Wee Willie Bloomquist, and acquiring these utility infielders isn’t much fun for us fans.  However, I have to imagine if you were looking at the 40 man roster and assembling a depth chart, you would place Zawadzki ahead of Arias.  Poor Arias… Just one day in the organization and he’s already in a free fall.  Welcome to the Royals.  Hell, I’d probably take Zawadzki ahead of Chris Getz.

Again, at this point in the off season, there’s really no harm in picking up cheap talent in the hope you find a little bit of upside.  Zawadzki did something in 2009 to land on those prospect lists.  For it to completely disappear in 2010 is just more than a little baffling.  So it’s worth a flier to see which season was the real Zawadzki.  (He experienced a similar drop in production between his sophomore and junior seasons at San Diego State.  Lack of consistency at the plate seems to be a continuing theme.) If he can’t hit and the prospect hounds were wrong, he either gets released or spends his summer in Omaha.  But if he does have a bit of a power stroke and a rocket for an arm, he could be a useful part of the Royals 25 man roster.

Again, it don’t cost nuthin’.