How do you hide when you’re 6’6” and 220lbs? Well, you hide by burying yourself on a team that features a fleet of bat-carrying Abrams tanks holding the audience spellbound. You hide by working on your craft, sometimes at the expense of screaming statistics. You hide by being second in a rotation whose first is a dynamic, feel good story, putting up some of the aforementioned loud numbers himself. Regardless of how he’s done it, Connor Sadzeck has hidden himself well in 2013, but that may not be the case for much longer.
Originally drafted out of high school in the 45th round by something called “Pittsburgh Pirates”, Connor grew up in a suburb of Chicago so he’s only ever known a football team without a consistent quarterback. A University of Oklahoma commit, his offer from them was withdrawn, so he enrolled at JUCO baseball beast, Howard College in lovely Big Spring, Texas. Following his freshman year with the Hawks, Connor signed a letter of intent to transfer to the University of Texas, possibly to really shove it in the faces of the aforementioned OU, but never made it to Austin after the Rangers popped him with the 23rd pick in the 11th round of the 2011 draft. The team gave Connor an above-slot, $350,000 bonus to convince him weekends at Disch-Falk weren’t really all that cool.
A rather raw product, he spent early 2012 in extended spring training before reporting in to wear the outstanding uniform of the Spokane Indians. With Spokane, he flashed proficiency, but was wildly inconsistent. He stared 15 games, pitching 62 innings, walking 47 hitters while striking out 58. The best example I can give you of a pitcher working hard and learning how to pitch, comes in the following comparison to the 15 games he’s started this season for low-A Hickory. 82 innings pitched while walking 23 and striking out 56. Yes, his strikeouts are down, but he’s cut his BB/9ip from 6.8 to 2.5…in one season. Even more remarkable, Connor has pitched 5 innings or more in all 15 of his starts this season. That’s not something you see often from a 21 year-old in low-A. I mean, usually a kid will wet the bed at least once in the first half of the season, just not have his FB command, or get hit hard enough that he's in the showers before he'd hoped. Not this season, not for Connor. Another key trait you like to see from a young starting pitcher is to advance his repertoire, and young Sadzeck is doing that this season. I've chatted with him after several outings, and gone are the days of just trying to pump mid-to-upper 90’s cheese past hitters. He’s begun using his 2-seamer quite a bit this season, a pitch he told me sits 88-91, and one he likes to use to run in on right handed hitters. The 4-seamer is now 92-95, touching 96 per Connor himself. That pitch was touching 99 a couple of years ago, but had about as good a chance of finding the backstop, or a spot between the hitter’s shoulder blades, as it did the catcher’s mitt. A couple of starts ago (after inducing 13(!) ground outs over 6 innings of shutout ball), he told me he threw a bunch of 2-seamers and changeups, but speaking with him after his most recent start, he said the arsenal that night had primarily been 4-seamers and curveballs. That’s, well, that’s awesome to hear. Developing a deep enough arsenal to have access to whatever is working on a particular night is what big league starters do, and it’s what you love to see developing at the lower levels. After being tipped off by RotoGraphs’ Nathaniel Stoltz and the Crawdads own play-x-play dean, Aaron Cox, Connor was bigger than his listed 6’5” 195lbs, I asked him directly and he laughed and said “that was my high school height and weight. I’m 6’6” 220 right now.” That’s also a big part of the process (no pun intended). He’s gotta continue to learn how to control that frame and get everything in sync, then repeat that motion again and again.
So to recap, you have a huge 21 year-old, who is refining his arsenal and gaining command while going deep into every game he pitches. I’m not big into projections, certainly not when a kid is still in low-A, but Connor looks good. He looks very good. Not sure how so many people have managed to overlook a young man honing his craft while growing into the size of a small mountain, but I don’t expect it to continue. I suppose it’s because slow growth isn’t spectacular, the numbers aren’t leaping off the page, the blurbs aren’t being scribbled, but I know none of that matters. The goal of any farm system is to develop kids who can eventually help win games at the big league level and to that end, Connor Sadzeck, you’re not hiding anymore.