Giants Top 50: #11 - Billy Sadler

He started the year in Arizona, singing country and facing a dream team. He finished it back in Arizona, earning top prospect honors at the league's prospect showcase But in the regular season, he made major strides. Still, the long-standing issues of control haunt him. Can someone who walks more than 5 batters every 9 innings be a major league closer? #11 is Billy Sadler!

Date of Birth: 09/21/1981 Position: P Height: 6'0" Weight: 190 Bats: R Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 6th Round (#183 Overall) of the 2003 Draft
2006 Stats
Connecticut - AA 4 3 2.56 44 0 20 45.2 23 14 13 1 29 67 .146 1.27
Fresno - AAA 2 0 1.80 7 0 1 10.0 5 2 2 1 2 12 .156 1.38
San Francisco - MLB 0 0 6.75 5 0 0 4.0 5 3 3 2 3 6 .294 5.00
Scottsdale - AFL 2 0 1.29 12 0 3 14.0 9 3 2 0 4 22 .184 1.33

Billy Sadler's first invite to the San Francisco Giants spring training camp sure was a doozy of a introduction to the majors.

First, in a hazing spectacle, Sadler stood atop the dugout and played acoustic guitar and sung his heart out while others (including Barry Bonds) dressed in drag or did worse.

That would be intimidating enough to most.  But when he took the mound for the first time, he was facing Derek Jeter.  To be followed by Ken Griffey, Jr.  And then Mark Teixiera.  And don't forget Chipper Jones.  And he came in with the bases already loaded.

When Sadler was finishing the year, he was back on a mound in Arizona, only a couple of months removed from his major league debut, and he was finishing a fall where he wowed scouts and players with his talent.

2006 was definitely Sadler's breakout year.  And he did it despite falling back in his fight against his major weakness, walks.  Sadler walked more than 1 every two innings between Connecticut and Fresno, but at the end of the year, he finished with a 2.43 ERA overall in the minors, and 21 saves between two losing teams.

Sadler's spring started in an exhibition game against Team U.S.A., in which the Giants were short-handed (even having one of their usual starters, Randy Winn, starting the game against them).  Sadler came in after Matt Morris tired in the third inning, and inherited a one-out, bases loaded situation.  Sadler got to face Jeter, who was the one player he wanted to face most, he said after the game, and got Jeter to ground to second.  But second baseman Ray Durham muffed the possible double-play ball.  Griffey followed with a single, Teixiera hit a sacrifice fly and Chipper Jones hit a three run homer.  Sadler ended up allowing not only all three runners he inherited to score, but allowed three unearned runs of his own.

The regular season, luckily, turned out a lot better for him.

He was able to do this because his pitches were unhittable, even when they were in the strike zone.  Amazingly, Sadler had more walks than hits allowed, using his sinking fastball effectively and turning his plus curveball into a strikeout pitch.  The fastball was as lively as ever, sitting regularly around 93, and touching 96 more consistently than it had in the past.  But, it was probably the improvement in his changeup, however, that boosted his strikeout numbers to new highs.

So, despite his control regressing from what looked like a long-awaited adjustment in 2005, Sadler finally earned his long-awaited callup to Fresno after spending parts of three seasons in Double-A. Sadler acquitted himself well, and his control was not an issue.  His major league stint was a learning experience in which he gave up as many home runs (2) in 4 innings as he had in nearly 56 innings in the minors.  But Sadler did nothing if not bounce back from it.  He pitched in the prospect showcase league, the Arizona Fall League, and allowed just one unearned run until his final outing of the year, where he gave up two earned.

Sadler's done a lot of growing up over his time with the Giants, and he's developed a much better mindset on the mound.  But his control problems continue to haunt him.  He has averaged more than 1 walk every two innings over his minor league career, and that's a big problem for most.  He has been able to remain effective so far, but major league hitters can hit that fastball hard if they are able to sit on him having to groove a pitch down the middle for a strike.  And Sadler, if he doesn't make the majors in 2007, will now have to face the majority of the season in the Pacific Coast League, a league that can punish pitchers who don't have very good control.

But Sadler being in Fresno is not a guarantee.  He will be given a legitimate chance to make the major league team in Spring Training.  His stuff, despite the control problems, is undeniably tempting.  His time in Triple-A last season was surprisingly good, and obviously the AFL raised his stock, status and visibility.  As the position player side of the team remains a group of older players, the Giants certainly would not mind having another young pitcher break through and impress.

Sadler has been suggested as a future closer, and with his stuff, it's not hard to see why.  But few closers can survive control issues, and Sadler has worse problems than most.  He also has the burden of playing in a system that has a bevy of relief talent, and a couple of closer candidates, including Brian Wilson.  Sadler's most likely destination in the majors, at least with the Giants, will be as a power setup man.  He could provide quite a punch alongside Wilson at the back end of the rotation, and he could conceivably have that job in 2007, even if he doesn't break camp with the big league team.  But don't be surprised to see Sadler's name in trade talks, particularly if he impresses this year.  The Giants need help in a lot of places, and Sadler may have the status and reputation to net them a more needed player.

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