Last season, after draft day, Dalton Sawyer had a difficult decision to make: sign with his childhood team, the Minnesota Twins, as a 27th-round pick, or return to the University of Minnesota for his senior season. Sawyer elected to do that latter, and the Oakland A’s are now benefiting from that decision.
On Friday, the A’s selected Sawyer with their 10th overall pick (9th round) on Day 2 of the 2016 MLB Draft. Sawyer’s 18-round leap in the draft came after an outstanding senior season for the lefty, during which he made the All-Big 10 Second Team and posted a 3.33 ERA in 94 innings for the Golden Gophers.
Sawyer, who will sign on Sunday night and travel to the A’s minor league complex on Monday, is thrilled with the opportunity ahead of him.
“It really meant the world,” Sawyer said of hearing his name called in the draft. “Coming back for my senior season, anything could have happened. I just couldn’t be happier with the season that we had personally with the Gophers and with this next step. I’m really excited and really looking forward to it.”
Sawyer’s path to professional baseball included recovering from serious injuries in a car accident almost three years to the day from when he was drafted by Oakland. The accident left Sawyer with a concussion, broken ribs and a collapsed lung. His passenger, Kasey Ralston, suffered several serious injuries, including a broken spine. Both were fortunate to recover and be able to play baseball again.
Sawyer says his time at Minnesota taught him a lot not only about how to be better baseball player, but also how to be a better person.
“There was a lot of focus on personal development: what it takes to be a leader, what it takes to be a man, to respect the game,” Sawyer said. “I will take all of the things that they have taught us [to the pro game].”
Sawyer began his career at Minnesota as a reliever, but he split his time between the rotation and the bullpen during his junior season. This year, Sawyer pitched exclusively out of the rotation and he thrived in the role, striking out 112 in those 94 innings and holding opposing batters to a .227 average.
Sawyer is keeping an open mind about what role he might fill in the pros.
“Right now, I have found a pretty good groove starting this year with the Gophs,” Sawyer said. “I’d love to continue doing that, but whatever they want me to do and whatever I can do to help the organization, I’m ready for it.”
Leading up to the draft, Sawyer had heard from the A’s some, but he was still surprised when it was Oakland that called his name. He says he doesn’t know a lot about the organization, but what he has heard has been positive.
“I have never heard a bad word about the A’s as an organization. I have heard that they are super good about developing young talent and taking care of arms, in terms of arm routine,” Sawyer said. “Overall, I have heard that they are just a really good organization. I’m really excited that they took me.”
Sawyer says his fastball is his best pitch and the pitch that everything else keys off of. He can throw his fastball up to 94 and he sits at 90-93. Sawyer uses a lower release point that creates some deception for hitters, as well. He also has a slider and a change-up. Sawyer also says he is a fierce competitor who doesn’t back down from a challenge.
Growing up in Minnesota, Sawyer was naturally a Twins fan. While he doesn’t compare himself to any of the Twins’ pitchers from his childhood, he says he learned a lot from watching the Twins’ ace, Johan Santana.
“I don’t know that I necessarily modeled my game after anyone, but I know growing up that I sure did love watching Santana pitch. He was fun to watch,” Sawyer said.
Although the A’s and Twins had a fierce rivalry during Sawyer’s childhood, he is happily changing his allegiances now.
“I’m a huge Oakland Athletics fan now,” he said.