Texas Rangers

Rangers’ pitching prospect content to harness 100-mph power

Even in baseball, a sport in which statistics and numbers have a life of their own, one number still stands out.

100 mph.

A pitcher who hits triple digits still elicits a giddy reaction from fans and head-shaking dismay from batters.

There was a small group of pitchers who touched 100 mph in 2015, including the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman. According to Statcast, Chapman, then with the Reds, threw the 101 hardest pitches in the league last season — all more than 100 mph.

Other fireballers include the Tigers’ Bruce Rondon, the Astros’ Ken Giles, the Yankees’ Nathan Eovaldi (from Alvin, home of Nolan Ryan) and the Pirates’ Arquimedes Caminero. All but Eovaldi are relievers.

Rangers prospect Connor Sadzeck was clocked at 102 mph during an Arizona Fall League game in October — a game televised on MLB Network.

Sadzeck — at 6-foot-7, 240 pounds — has the intimidating look to go with his velocity. But the 24-year-old is two years removed from Tommy John surgery, and is still learning to harness his stuff.

The right-hander returned in 2015 and moved from Low A Hickory to Double A Frisco. But he struggled with his command, walking 17 in 19  2/3 innings with the RoughRiders while striking out 16.

He hit 100 mph in his last start of the season but allowed four runs (on four hits and three walks) in three innings and took the loss.

The Rangers are hoping Sadzeck, currently working as a starter, can learn to throw strikes by dialing it down a notch while also working to perfect more consistent secondary pitches. He has primarily been a fastball-curveball pitcher, but he’s working on a changeup this spring. It was one of his go-to pitches, he said, before his surgery.

But before his surgery, he wasn’t throwing as hard. While recovering in 2014 and much of 2015, Sadzeck added about 35 pounds of muscle and became more focused on maintaining his body.

“I’m learning how to pitch again with [the changeup] with a high velocity,” he said. “Learning how to back off with that and throw it with a little more finesse.”

To do that, pitching coach Doug Brocail has Sadzeck backing off a bit during his bullpen sessions. Instead of 100 percent, he’s throwing at around 85 percent, trying to maintain a repeatable delivery that will give him better control.

“If you can’t throw a strike, I can’t help you,” Brocail said bluntly. “Once you can throw strikes, then you can get better at location. But if you can’t throw strikes, the 100 doesn’t pay off anyway. He has a great curveball. It’s hard, it’s up-down and controllable.”

The first thing Brocail does when he hears about a guy throwing 100 mph: He checks the walk ratio.

“Are you able to get the strikeout when you need the strikeout?” Brocail said. “Are you able to use that 100 to your advantage?”

Until those things are true for Sadzeck, Brocail wants him to focus on location and let the velocity come naturally.

“If you can get it over the plate,we can teach a guy how to slow down, how to manipulate the ball, how to spin the ball,” he said. “[The velocity] will come.”

That’s what Sadzeck and the Rangers are banking on.

“I’m trying to use the bullpens to work on location, and then when the game comes around you have that same intensity but the adrenaline kind of takes over and that’s what takes you to those high velocities as opposed to thinking you have to muscle up and get outside of your mechanics,” Sadzeck said.

Both Sadzeck and catcher Brett Nicholas live in Mesa, Ariz., during the off-season. They throw and work out together during the winter. Nicholas caught one of Sadzeck’s recent bullpens.

“His secondary stuff looked very good,” Nicholas said. “He was throwing it for strikes, and it caused that fastball to have that little extra giddy-up on it.”Plus, as manager Jeff Banister noted, major league hitters will eventually sit on a pitch, even if it’s 100 mph. A secondary pitch, even to play second fiddle to a 100 mph fastball, is a must.

“The ability to have secondary pitches and you’ve got a 100? You get hitters in one of those give-up modes. They don’t want to go in there because it’s very challenging,” Banister said. “[A pitcher needs complementary pitches] so you don’t get major league hitters in there sitting and cheating because they can barrel it.”

While pitchers throw harder on average than ever before, the luster of the 100 mph pitch remains. In 2015, nearly one of every 10 pitches was 95 mph or faster, according to the New York Times, almost double than in 2008. In 2014, 151 pitchers threw a fastball at 95 mph or faster, according to Baseball Info Solutions.

Location is a must to be a successful pitcher, but even Banister conceded that someone throwing 100 mph can worry a little less about control.

“There is wiggle room, but as you move up that wiggle room gets smaller because guys will make you pay for that mistake,” Sadzeck said. “They’ve all seen 100, so if you leave it over the plate it’s going to get hit.”

Bottom line, of course, is to get outs, no matter the velocity.

“I want him to corral it in the zone because you have to crawl before you walk,” Brocail said. “I’d rather have a guy throwing 80 who gets everybody out than a guy who throws 100 ... Is the 100 nice? Sure it is. It’s a ‘wow’ factor for the fans. But to a pitching coach, it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t get outs.”

Stefan Stevenson: 817-390-7760, @StevensonFWST

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