Connor Sadzeck was blessed with a prototypical pitcher’s frame and a thunderous right arm.
More importantly, the 2010 Crystal Lake Central graduate has been driven to make the most of his professional baseball career, whatever that turns out to be.
“I’ve always been so determined to become a baseball player,” Sadzeck said. “Not to be arrogant, I don’t think there was ever any doubt that I was going to make something of this career. I was never going to stop until I got an opportunity like this.”
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound right-hander hasn’t made it yet, but he took an important step closer when the Texas Rangers recently placed him on their 40-man roster. One key reason for that move was Sadzeck’s performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit triple digits on speed guns, even topping out at 102 mph.
The increased velocity even amazed Sadzeck, who had a partially torn UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery on March 26, 2014, thus missing that entire season. Although Sadzeck has a theory for why he threw harder than he ever had before.
“I learned a lot about my body and the strength in that year,” Sadzeck said. “You’re not throwing. A lot of it is getting in the weightroom and focusing on putting on weight. I put on 25 pounds while I was in rehab. Putting on that weight and gaining that strength is a huge thing, not throwing for a year. A lot of people look at Tommy John (surgery) kind of like a miracle surgery, everyone comes back throwing harder, but I attribute it to the rehab process and being able to condition your body and strengthen it.”
Sadzeck pitched for one season at Howard College, a two-year school in Big Spring, Texas, and was committed to the University of Texas before the Rangers took him in the 11th round of the 2011 Baseball Amateur Draft.
After three seasons in the Rangers’ organization, Sadzeck experienced elbow problems. He was given an option of rehabilitating the arm for four months, with no guarantee that would heal the partial tear, or have surgery.
“That was the way I was looking at it, if I come back after the rehab and it still hurts, now I lose two years, as opposed to getting it done now and missing the year and coming back a year later,” Sadzeck said.
Now, Sadzeck and 2009 Crystal Lake South graduate Ian Gardeck, who pitches in the San Francisco organization, both have hit 100 mph and are on their respective 40-man rosters. Sadzeck and Gardeck actually saw one another in Class A California League games last season.
Sadzeck’s numbers did not stand out, although he pitched well for 15 months after surgery in Class A Advanced with the High Desert Mavericks, registering a 3.98 ERA, with 48 strikeouts and 24 walks in 40 2/3 innings. His ERAs in Double-A and the Arizona Fall League were higher than 9.50, yet hitting 100 mph caught everyone’s attention.
“The velocity he’s shown kind of opened the doors for him to get put on the 40-man roster,” said Jeff Andrews, pitching coach of the Frisco RoughRiders, the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate from the Texas League. “In Connor’s situation, where he came from, it’s an all-year thing. The stability of his arm and the strength he showed when he came back, that’s kind of what piqued everybody in the organization. The organization likes what he’s showing right now and likes his potential.”
Andrews had Sadzeck for a few weeks at Frisco. What the Rangers saw there, along with the velocity spike in Arizona, led to Sadzeck’s promotion. Andrews said Sadzeck usually threw one inning in Arizona, so he could just throw at maximum effort, which helped result in hitting triple digits.
“I struggled in Double-A quite a bit,” Sadzeck said. “I had a couple good outings, including a six-inning no-hitter, but for the most part I was all over the place. I put a lot of pressure on myself. My control wasn’t the best. They say that’s the last thing that comes coming off of Tommy John.”
Sadzeck realizes his increased velocity alone it not enough to get him where he wants to go.
“It’s nice to be able to throw that hard, but there’s a lot more that goes into pitching than that,” Sadzeck said. “I’m at the stage now where I need to learn how to deal with this new-found velocity. I need to be able to hone it and locate it, it’s a little harder to control. Learning how to pitch with that is my main goal. If I can hone that in, it obviously will be a benefit.”
As part of the 40-man roster, Sadzeck knows he will be in major league camp with the Rangers in February. Those at the top of the organization are watching him closer than ever now.
“It’s a nice acknowledgment,” Andrews said. “It means that the organization likes him and is protecting him from the rest of baseball. They’ve begun to see he’s making progress and showing physical signs of having the stuff to pitch in the big leagues.
"It means that eyes are open and they’re watching him and he’s on their radar. It’s going to be how well he develops his stuff and what he can do with his pitches and how much progress he makes with his pitches that will kind of determine his future.”
Sadzeck is determined to strive even harder now that he’s closer to his dream.
“My goal is to try to make the roster, even if it is an outside chance,” Sadzeck said. “If it doesn’t happen, then I hope to do whatever I can while I’m in the minor leagues to convince them to put me in the big leagues as soon as possible.
“I’m going to drive and keep going until I win a Cy Young and get a World Series ring. That’s just who I am, who I’ve always strived to be. The organization knows that and I think that’s what they want to hear, guys who want to be winners.”