Finding a way to be successful right out of the chute in the Midwest League is a difficult task for many prospects battling through their first full professional seasons, but it should come as no surprise that one pitcher who has excelled comes from the state of Minnesota.
The Oakland A’s ninth-round selection in last June’s draft, left-hander Dalton Sawyer, has compiled a 4-2 record and minuscule 2.16 ERA to put himself in the conversation for a MWL All-Star invite. The senior signing out of the University of Minnesota is striking out more than one batter per inning, and has posted a 58:16 K:BB rate in his first 50 innings of 2017.
“Most of our home openers in Minnesota included some snow, so I was definitely used to and prepared for the cold weather that the Midwest can bring,” said Sawyer, who was a second-team All-Big 10 selection last spring.
“It’s been pretty much what I expected. It’s been more throwing than I’ve been used to in the past, so it’s been a physical adjustment. But the guys are awesome and it’s been a ton of fun. You always want to break camp out of spring training, especially for your first spring training, and that was definitely my goal. I’m very happy to be here.”
The 6-5 left-hander has picked up right where he left off last summer with short-season Vermont. After signing with the organization, Sawyer saw his workload limited with the Lake Monsters and made 14 appearances out of the bullpen. He pitched 18.2 innings and posted a 3.38 ERA with a K:BB rate of 26:10.
Sawyer opened this season in a hybrid pitching role with the Snappers as part of Beloit’s eight-man tandem starting rotation. The eight-man tandem rotation system has since ended, with Sawyer and fellow teammate Brendan Butler earning the opportunity to start games on their own.
One stretch that may have helped the A’s decide to turn Sawyer loose was a four-appearance stint between April 14-27 in which he allowed no earned runs on eight hits while striking out 18 and walking one.
Performing in the different roles has had little effect on Sawyer, who split time between relieving and starting in college, as well.
“I’ve used all my pitches as well as I can, whether that’s every four days or every five days,” he said. “I’m going to try to go out and get outs any way I can. It doesn’t matter a lot on the long run. My game plan is to establish fastball command right off the bat and everything else comes from there and feeds off of that. I try to have a good rhythm and tempo on the mound and get some fastball command.”
Currently taking the mound with a three-pitch mix (fastball, change-up, slider), Sawyer said his approach from game-to-game often depends on which of his three weapons is most effective.
“It depends on what’s working that day more than anything,” he said. “If they have a lot of left-handed hitters, I’ll throw more sliders. If they have a lot of right-handed hitters, I’ll throw more change-ups. It largely depends on their approach as a team. Can you beat them with two strikes with spin, breaking balls down or going hard in?”
The biggest adjustment thus far for Sawyer could be with his mechanics, following some side sessions with A’s minor-league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson.
“Gil came into town and we tried to work on being a bit more deceptive and kind of throwing across my body a little bit,” Sawyer said. “Now it’s more of just working on getting better extension and a release point towards home plate, so I can make that adjustment in my mechanics.”
Sawyer hopes to continue his quick work through opposing MWL lineups and put himself in the conversation for a mid-season call-up to High-A Stockton.
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