Arman Sabouri is not a baseball name, at first blush. There are plenty of Asian names in baseball, plenty of Latin names, and plenty of Eastern European and Anglo names, but not Middle Eastern. Not Iranian. So, to go along with just being a lefty, Sabouri is an oddity. From his port-side delivery to the lilt in his wind-up, there's nothing quite ordinary about Sabouri, including his work habits. Maybe that's why he'll fit in so well in Berkeley, when he joins the California baseball program in 2017.
Over the past two seasons, Sabouri has thrown 177.1 innings. In high school. In a schedule with about half as many games in a season as college baseball. To say he’s got a rubber arm is an understatement. To say he’s got a good head on his shoulders is, too. Beyond his 3.86 GPA, Sabouri is also a pragmatist.
Most pitchers his age are playing on several travel ball teams, putting miles – and lots of pitches – on their shoulders and elbows. He’s not. He saves it all for the season.
“Actually, this season, I laid off,” says Sabouri, who committed to the Golden Bears on Aug. 5. “I learned my lesson from previous years. I did throw a lot this year, and in some sense, I regret it, but from another perspective, when I was in the season, I didn’t want to stop pitching; I wanted to win. I wanted to get as far as I could, so that’s why I pitched so many innings.
“In previous years, I always remember, right after the season was over, all the adrenaline kind of went away, and when I pitched again, like, in a summer league team, it just wasn’t the same, because there wasn’t nearly as much motivation, and I usually got hurt during the summer. I never got hurt during the high school season.”
Though he’s a tad undersized at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, the left-handed hurler out of San Jose (Calif.) Branham has been an absolute horse for the Bruins.
Over the past two years, he’s gone 24-3, including 15-1 with a 0.92 ERA in 13 starts last season, spinning eight complete games and three shutouts, fanning 126 and walking just 18.
Sabouri is much more than just numbers, though. Sabouri’s father is an immigrant from Iran, hence Sabouri’s very atypical appellation.
Pedram Sabouri – Arman’s father -- came to the United States to earn his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Minnesota, after earning his undergraduate degree at the University of Tehran, and his son played soccer at an early age, until a friend asked him if he wanted to try some hardball.
“My friend that I’d been friends with since I was in kindergarten, he said, ‘Hey, you want to play baseball?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ and I was like, six,” says Sabouri. “I tried it out for a season, I liked it, and I sucked at it, at first, but I liked it, so I kept playing.
“I actually played soccer for two falls, when I was five and six, but I didn’t really like it. When I played baseball, though, it was something different. I can’t explain it. It just felt right.”
Sabouri most certainly doesn’t suck now. He’s been the bedrock upon which Branham has built a baseball resurgence. After winning Central Coast Section titles in 1971 and 1989, the Bruins hadn’t really been a power, until winning the CCS title in 2014, and getting to the Division 2 quarterfinals this year on the back of a 22-9 season.
“We had Alex Zarate, who’s at DeAnza right now, but he was our horse that year,” Sabouri says of 2014. “I was the two pitcher. That year was just magical. Baseball has been one of our stronger sports, but I remember hearing that there was a point where we were about to go down to B-league, but our coach begged for the board to keep us in A-league, and we started doing well that year, and ever since, we’ve been going to CCS. 2014 was just special, because it’s the third time baseball’s won it, ever, at Branham, and the first time in 25 years. It was pretty special. Honestly, I felt like we made history, and we did, at the school, because of what we did in CCS.”
Sabouri earned an offer from St. Mary’s after his sophomore season, but blew up this summer, after trying out for the Area Code Games.
“The first time I heard the name ‘Cal,’ [hitting coach Brad] Sanfilippo sent an email to my varsity coach, asking about me,” says Sabouri. “He wanted to come out to a game, but he never really could, because the schedule conflicted. He finally saw me at the Area Code tryout, and that’s when he saw me pitch, for real. Then, he called me on the ride home. When I was driving home from Stockton, he called me and let me know that he was interested.”
Sabouri’s performance at the NorCal World Series sealed the deal, as far as the Bears were concerned. A scouting report from the event:
“Arman is a very polished left-handed pitcher with a slight build, his fastball was 88 to 86 Mph. He worked it to both sides of the plate with a solid command and was able to cut up hitters with a good down angle and small arms side run he had smooth actions and quick arm. Very deceptive off the mound as he sets up on the third base side and strides towards the left-handed hitters box, creating very tough angles, breaking ball was 76 to 70 for the changeup was a little hard at 80 to 76. Huge upside for this lefty as the suitors will start lining up, very, very soon. “ -- BayAreaWorldSeries.com
Sabouri has a lilt in his windup – a slight hesitation at the height of his leg kick – that, to a hitter, is unsettling. Good hitting means good timing, and good pitching is messing up that timing. Sabouri excels at that aspect of the game.
“Well, at first, when I was little, my windup was quicker than it is now,” he says. “I’ve always had a problem with leaning forward – like I want to get to the plate really quick, and my shoulder drags and everything falls apart.
“When I go slow, it gives me time to gather myself, and stay balanced, moving my whole body together, instead of lagging a part of my body. I actually had some shoulder problems – not major shoulder problems, but minor injuries – caused by dragging my shoulder, because I was going too quick to the plate. Also, I didn’t have as much velocity as I would have had, when I was going quick and rushing.”
After the NorCal World Series put that unsettling windup in front of college coaches, Sabouri says, he had quite an eventful night.
“After that, I started getting calls when I was a quarter of the way home, and when I got home, I was probably on the phone for three hours, just sitting on the patio, taking calls from Long Beach, Pepperdine, San Diego, Arizona State, Seattle,” Sabouri says. “There were a lot of calls.”
Cal had already talked to him before that – a couple weeks before the Area Code Games, because Sanfilippo had seen him at the tryout for the Area Code tryout.
“I went to this thing at DeAnza College, which was a free, open tryout, and they chose kids from there to go to the tryout,” Sabouri says. “He saw me at the tryout for the tryout, and he called me a day later, and said he’d been following me through the high school season, and he was interested, and he saw me again at the Area Code tryout.”
By the time August dawned, Sabouri had offers from the Gaels, the Bears, UC Davis, Santa Clara, San Jose State and Cal Poly-SLO. That last one proved to be nearly as important as the offer from Cal.
Just before Sabouri was offered by the Bears, they had lost pitching coach Mike Neu to the head coaching gig at Pacific. Shortly thereafter, head coach David Esquer hired Thomas Eager – the former pitching coach for Cal Poly.
“That was definitely awesome,” says Sabouri. “When I saw that he went to Cal, I was like, ‘Wow, I know that guy! That guy just offered me a scholarship from a different school, and he’s going to be at the school that I’m going to go to.’ It was weird, but at the same time, it was really beneficial, because I didn’t know any of the other coaches, but when I went up to coach Eager, he knew me, I knew him, and he knew my parents. They were talking about stuff that we talked about with Cal Poly, and he’s definitely a great pitching coach -- I can tell already by what people say about him, and where he comes from, so I’m really excited to have him as my pitching coach.”
When Sabouri visited in late July, he toured the campus with the coaches and both his parents. Then, he sat down in the coaching offices and received his scholarship offer.
“It was just, it blew all the other schools out of the water,” Sabouri says. “It was the best academic school to offer, and that was definitely a priority in my family, so I love that – the fact that UC Berkeley has all these Nobel Prize winners who are professors there, and just great programs all around, and also the athletics – a Pac-12 school, playing against some of the best competition in the country – I’m a really competitive person, and I want to be in that atmosphere.”
Two weeks later, Sabouri was a Bear.
“Those couple weeks, I had a feeling – I had a gut feeling – I felt like Cal was the right place for me,” says Sabouri. “I don’t know why I was waiting. I was waiting because I was nervous? I don’t know. One day, I just said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ So, I called Sanfilippo up, and said I wanted to be there.”
Just like baseball did more than a decade ago, Cal just felt right. That’s more than can be said for hitters facing Sabouri, though.
The Bears have also snagged commitments from projectable shortstop Cameron Eden out of Yuba City (July 23) and, most recently, a very physical, 5-foot-11, 165-pound middle infielder Sam Wezniak out of Carlsbad (Calif.) Sage Creek, on Aug. 30. Wezniak was a Team USA U16 alternate this summer, and could develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter.