Seby Zavala had Tony Gwynn for a coach for his first three years at San Diego State -- right up until Gwynn's death in 2014 -- and he still carries some of the Padres legend's key pieces of advice, even now that he's in the White Sox system.
"He'd wanted all of us to understand exactly what type of players we were," the 24-year-old said. "Once you understand that, it's from there you can make big jumps. He just wanted us to be honest with ourselves. If you [stink] at something, be honest about it, and do everything you can to get better at it."
So what did Zavala identify about himself that has helped him climb from a 12th-round pick in 2015 to the No. 21 prospect in a loaded Chicago system?
"I realized I had a little bit of power," he said. "I needed to hone in on spots that allow me to execute that power. I'm not a slap hitter by any means. My job is to hit home runs and doubles, and I needed to figure out what pitches I drive best."
Playing on what would have been his former Aztec coach's 58th birthday Wednesday, the right-handed slugger showed off that pop again. Zavala homered in his third game in a row in Double-A Birmingham's 16-3 rout of Pensacola at Regions Field. Zavala wasn't the only one to continue a streak with MLB.com's No. 4 overall prospect Eloy Jimenez extending his run of multi-hit games to nine in a row after doubling twice.
Gameday box score
The Barons blew open the afternoon affair early with five runs in the first inning -- two on Jimenez's first double. Zavala extended the lead to 7-0 with his two-run blast to left in the second off Blue Wahoos right-hander Jesus Reyes, who faced Birmingham on April 24. He gave six runs (none of them earned) on four hits and a walk in 2 2/3 innings in that first outing. Zavala said that was enough for the Barons to get a gameplan off him going into their second matchup.
"We knew we could wait on him a little bit," he said of the Pensacola starter, who ended up being charged with seven earned runs on eight hits over three innings. "He had a couple of two-seamers that were riding in and he'd throw a lot of sliders too. We knew we just had to pick our spots with him, and we did damage when we did that."
Zavala's home run streak has pushed him into the Southern League lead with nine through 29 games. After going 1-for-16 in a four-game set at Tennessee last week, the catcher -- who hit 21 home runs between Class A and Class A Advanced -- credits work with White Sox hitting coordinator Mike Gellinger with helping him catch fire in this series against Pensacola. Over the last three games, Zavala is 5-for-14 (.357) with the three homers and five RBIs, pushing his season line up to .282/.379/.583.
"I was getting a little too rotational in my swing," Zavala said. "We worked on keeping everything driving toward the middle of the field. ... As soon as I got home and got to work with [Gellinger], it was just a couple drills later that I realized what I was doing wrong. We bounce ideas off each other back and fourth, but I do whatever he says. He's helped me out a lot."
Video: Eloy Jimenez doubles twice
Jimenez added another double in the sixth. Over his nine-game streak with multiple hits, he is 19-for-39 (.487) with three homers and seven doubles. (Since 2005, the longest multi-hit-game streak in the Minors was Tyler White's 11-gamer last season for Fresno.) That stretch pushed his season line up to .346/.375/.704 over 20 games after a left pectoral injury kept him out the first two weeks of the season.
The top White Sox prospect was pulled for a pinch hitter in the seventh -- a move that led to speculation that he was being moved up to Triple-A Charlotte. However, the move was simply a managerial decision in a not-so-close game and didn't lead to movement, at least not immediately.
Zack Collins, the club's No. 9 prospect, went 2-for-4 with a double and two walks and a run scored. By reaching four times, Collins pushed his season OBP to .454 through 28 games. Seven of the nine starting Birmingham hitters had multiple hits against the Blue Wahoos, and all nine reached base at least once.
"It's amazing," Zavala said. "It does a lot for the team that we can pack things in like this. All we need is one guy to get on base, and then like [Wednesday], we've got Zack, Eloy, me and even Rosie [Matt Rose] ready right after that. We know that one of us will get the job done. If we get a couple hits together, we can be even more dangerous like we were today."
White Sox No. 20 prospect Jordan Stephens scattered two hits and three walks struck out eight over six scoreless innings in his best start of 2018.