Sadzeck on the prospect radar

SURPRISE, Ariz. – The Texas Rangers gave righty Connor Sadzeck a reported $350,000 bonus as an 11th-round pick out of Howard College last summer. So far, he's showing impressive stuff during his first spring training. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 20-year-old on Tuesday.

Although Connor Sadzeck has yet to log an official inning in professional baseball, he is putting himself on the prospect radar with a strong performance this spring. The Texas Rangers' 11th-round pick in last year's MLB Draft, Sadzeck signed with the club in mid-July for a reported $350,000 bonus––well above slot money.

Because he signed late, Sadzeck inked a contract for the 2012 season and spent the remainder of last year working out with the rookie-level Arizona League club before pitching at fall instructional league.

The Illinois native initially signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Oklahoma out of high school, but he instead ended up at Howard College in Big Spring, Texas. As a freshman at Howard, he posted a 3.56 earned-run average in 60.2 innings, yielding 61 hits, walking 34, and striking out 49. He was set to attend the University of Texas this year before opting to begin his professional career instead.

The general scouting report on Sadzeck coming out of college was that he flashed a plus fastball with relatively raw secondary stuff and command. In three one-inning appearances this spring, he has lived up to that report somewhat, though the stuff may be a bit better than initially advertised.

Sadzeck closed out the Low-A spring training game on Tuesday, striking out the side in a perfect ninth inning to finish a 3-1 victory over the Kane County Cougars (Kansas City Royals). His chart is as follows: B (ball), C (called strike), S (swinging strike), F (foul ball), FB (fastball), CB (curveball). All three hitters he faced were right-handed batters.

–95 FBC, 95 FBB, 79 CBC, 96 FBC – strikeout looking
–78 CBC, 96 FBS, 79 CBB, 77 CBB, 97 FBS – strikeout swinging
–95 FBS, 94 FBB, 96 FBB, 96 FBS, 79 CBB, 96 FBS – strikeout swinging

The 6-foot-5, 195-pound prospect located his fastball well while showing plus-plus velocity in the short burst, sitting between 95-96 mph while getting down to 94 and reaching up to 97. His fastball has good life with late boring action in on right-handed hitters.

In his first two spring appearances, Sadzeck had shown above-average velocity, but not quite the level he flashed on Tuesday. He worked anywhere between 91-95 mph but was having some command issues––something he chalks up to the mechanical work he's done this spring. His command was much-improved in the third outing.

Because Sadzeck comes from a relatively low arm slot––somewhere between three-quarters and high three-quarters––he must really get his hand on top of his curveball. When he does, as he did for the first two of Tuesday's appearance, it's a sharp-breaking 78-79 mph curveball that already flashes plus. When he doesn't, as was the case on the last three he threw, it loses the break and flattens out or spikes in the dirt.

The 20-year-old says, in the following interview, that he believes his changeup is his more developed secondary pitch, though he hasn't thrown it much this spring. He has used just the fastball and curveball in his last two spring games.

It's easy to look at Sadzeck's stuff and results in Tuesday's outing and think of him as a potential late-inning relief prospect who can attack hitters with a lively plus-plus fastball and a swing-and-miss breaking ball. Regardless of his ultimate role, the Rangers are likely to develop him as a starting pitcher for the time being not only because of his 6-foot-5 frame, but also in order to maximize the development of his mechanics and secondary stuff.

While the Rangers haven't completely finalized their opening-day minor league rosters for the 2012 season, Sadzeck will most likely begin the year at extended spring training, where he will continue tweaking his mechanics. He should join Single-A Hickory at some point, though, and he certainly has the raw stuff to have success at the lower levels. His mechanical work––designed to help the command and secondary stuff––will be a development worth monitoring this season.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with the Chicago-area product after his impressive ninth-inning performance on Tuesday.

Jason Cole: To start it off, give me your thoughts on your outing tonight. You came in and closed it out in the ninth inning.

Connor Sadzeck: Yeah, it felt real good. I went to the ‘pen, and we were working on some things earlier in the week. It wasn't really working for me, so I decided to go back––to kind of run with what I brung. It kind of worked out for me today.

Cole: What are some of those things you were working on?

Sadzeck: My front side––getting it up a lot higher than it was. Kind of getting more tilt. I was leaving the ball up a lot and missing up armside with it. It wasn't really working out, so that's something we'll probably work on in the future. But for the purpose of the game, we kind of went back to what I know and where I'm comfortable.

Cole: You got a little bit of action at instructs last offseason and in camp this year. Even though you've yet to pitch in an official professional game, how much do you feel you've progressed since signing?

Sadzeck: A ton. A ton. I mean, I came to instructs, and there's so much these coaches do. Being around these guys––my teammates and everything––it's awesome. You progress in more than one way. On the baseball side, and we learn about being a man and stuff, too. It's an awesome experience.

Cole: How do you feel about your performance so far this spring?

Sadzeck: Yeah, this would be my third outing. It's been one inning apiece. The first two were a little shaky. The first one wasn't so hot. I was missing a lot side-to-side, which is obviously something you don't want. The second outing was a little better, but I was still missing high. But I was getting the ball to the plate and got the job done. This outing, I felt like I was keeping the ball down and getting it up when I needed to.

Cole: Tell me about your curveball. When you get on top of it, it looks like a true hammer, but at times today, it was really spiking in the dirt.

Sadzeck: Yeah, I threw two good ones, I believe. And then I think I just tried to overthrow it at times. And that just comes to trusting my stuff. The first two were loose and easy––a lot better than the last few, when I tried to overthrow and I spiked it. So really, that just comes down to trusting what you got.

Cole: What would you call your arm slot?

Sadzeck: I'd say high three-quarter. That's something else we worked on. Sometimes I tend to get rotational and pull off my front side, and that drops my arm angle a little bit. That was one reason why we kind of went to that high front side. But I'm just going back to it and keeping that mind of staying on top of the ball and not getting rotational––that really helps a lot.

Cole: When you are dropping down just a little bit unintentionally, it is a little more difficult to get on top of that curveball?

Sadzeck: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. That's when I really spike it. There's a couple times––even today, I think. On those two, I might have got around it a little bit, and you kind of spike it. Then it doesn't do much for you, so I need to keep the arm slot just like the fastballs to get that good break.

Cole: You've been a starting pitcher in the past. Have you thrown a changeup much?

Sadzeck: Yeah, actually my changeup is probably my go-to secondary pitch. I just haven't really thrown it much here in the spring. I like to throw it to lefties a lot. I haven't really thrown it much to righties because when I have my curveball, I like throwing that to righties. But that's something that I can definitely work in––throwing changeup to righties and lefties. But I love that pitch. Hopefully I can get a couple more outings and get to use it.

Cole: What kind of changeup grip do you use?

Sadzeck: Circle change. Yeah, I throw a circle change and pronate a little bit and get that sink. I find it helps me out a lot, because I throw a two-seam that has some heavy sink to it. So when I throw that circle change as opposed to a straight change, I get that same look out of the hand and it gets that same movement, but it's eight to 10 miles per hour slower.

Cole: Do you throw almost all two-seam fastballs?

Sadzeck: Yeah, for the most part. Actually, there, I was throwing a lot of four-seams. When I go glove-side down and away, I like to go four-seam. It's a little easier to stick it out there. Sometimes when I try to go with that two-seam glove-side, it runs over the plate and I get into a little bit of trouble. So when I go in on righties, I love throwing that two-seam right under the bat.

Cole: Howard College is obviously a great junior college program, but it's also a long way from Illinois, in Big Spring, Texas. How did you end up there?

Sadzeck: It's a long story. I actually signed with the University of Oklahoma out of high school. Things didn't work out there. I got a call in July. They said there were just some things that didn't really work out there. I was kind of forcing to try and find a JUCO. Once word got out, some of the JUCOs called me––Chippola, San Jac, Howard––and I just kind of built a relationship with the coaches there and decided, ‘Let's go ahead and do it.‘ Because I knew the reputation and everything.

But it was a huge change, going out to west Texas and me being from a suburb city guy. It was definitely a tough change, but I think it was all for the best. Being in the middle of nowhere really gets you focused on what's important. I was able to really hone in on my baseball skills and really progress while I was there.

Cole: You signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Texas after your first season at Howard. Tell me about the decision to pass up that opportunity and begin your professional career.

Sadzeck: It was probably the toughest decision in my life up to this point. I signed with the University of Texas, as you know, out of Howard. And those guys are great. They did everything in their power to make me feel comfortable and welcome and everything. At the end of the day, I just sat down with my family and felt like this was the best decision for me––to kind of get that career started. Now that I'm here, I love it. It's an awesome experience.

Cole: How difficult is it to make that call to Texas and say that you're going to sign?

Sadzeck: Yeah, it's tough. I made similar calls in high school while picking a college. You pick your school and get all excited about it. For my case, it was Oklahoma. It was, ‘Oh yeah, I'm going to Oklahoma, I'm going to Oklahoma.' Then you realize, ‘Well, I've got to call those other schools and tell them I'm sorry.' So it's definitely tough. It's kind of like breaking up with a girlfriend. You build these relationships with coaches, and they're all great guys. It just makes it that much tougher.

But at the end of the day, I think they understand. Especially with Texas––Skip Johnson and Tommy Harmon and those guys. They deal with that all the time. When they bring in the top prospects in the country, they deal with it every day. They deal with guys saying, ‘Hey, we're going to go play pro ball.' So that makes it a little easier. And Skip is still great to me, so it's nice to be kind of treated like an alum with those guys.

Cole: Like I said, you've obviously worked as a starter in the past. Are you expecting to work as a starter this season?

Sadzeck: It's hard to say now. With all the things we're working on, I wouldn't be surprised if they work me out of the ‘pen––an inning here and an inning there. Just try to hone in on those little things that I need to kind of tweak and refine a little bit. But obviously the goal is to get back to that starting role and help out the organization from that role.

Cole: As you look forward to that first season in pro ball, how excited are you to end spring training and get going with the regular season?

Sadzeck: I'm definitely getting that itch. These little innings and these little outings are just a taste of it. You want more. I'm definitely feeling, during the week when I haven't thrown in awhile, I'm saying, ‘Come on, come on. I want to get out there.' But I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a blast. I've done it my whole life, and now I get to do it for a living. So it's a blessing. It's awesome.

Cole: Is there anything you have in mind that you really want to focus on improving this season?

Sadzeck: Yeah. I want to focus on being more consistent, as every pitcher would like to be. But being able to go in day in and day out, knowing that you performed at your best. I go out there and give it my all every time. But I know there's things that I need to work on so I can perform at an optimal level. So I'm hoping that I get the opportunity to get into these games and work it out, because I think it would be a lot of fun once I figure everything out.

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