OAKLAND—For the last three years, Sam Demel has been working his way through the A’s farm system, making steady but unspectacular progress toward a big league bullpen job. This year, something changed and changed dramatically.
“Cutter, cutter, cutter,” said A’s farm director Keith Lieppman.
Demel added a cutter this year, and the results have been little short of spectacular. Through his first 21 games for Triple-A Sacramento, he was 2-0, 1.29 with six saves and 28 strikeouts in 28 innings. That improvement helped Demel’s stock so much, he was traded to the Diamondbacks for Conor Jackson.
“I started throwing a cutter,” Demel said. “Mixing that in there on lefties has been nice. My sinker hasn’t suffered at all. Having it go both ways is a big reason the numbers look like they do.”
Many around baseball fear that teaching young pitchers the cutter will diminish a hurler’s primary pitches, but Demel has seen no negative affects. A’s pitching coordinator Gil Patterson watched his progress closely to assure there would not be problems. And Patterson likes what he is seeing.
“He’s worked extremely hard at trying to get the cutter better,” Patterson said. “He’s got four pitches that go four different ways. He has a tremendous sinker—(Trevor) Chahill-like. The cutter gets in on lefties and hits off the bat on righties. He’s got a change that the bottom drops off. And his fastball is 93, 94 and rides up in the zone.”
‘¨Demel had held lefthanded hitters to a .167 mark (8-for-48) at Sacramento, with 12 strikeouts. He says the other major development is that he has improved his fastball command on both sides of the plate. He went to the Arizona Fall League and worked exclusively on location without worrying about results.
“I just told myself I’m going to throw 89 percent fastballs and throw on both sides of the plate,” Demel said. “When you go to the Fall League, numbers don’t matter. You can focus on one thing. That’s the biggest help a reliever can have. During the regular season you don’t want to go and have any bad outings.”
Demel said Patterson watched him closely during the fall, constantly reminding him to use both sides of the plate and get ahead in the count. “Gil just kept reiterating what to do,” Demel said. “Gil’s been great. I enjoyed working with him.”
He followed the AFL by becoming a regular at API in Frisco, Texas, where he worked on his flexibility and body strength before reporting to spring training. The intense work has moved him into the forefront of the A’s prospects.
The A’s picked Demel out of Texas Christian in the third round of the 2007 draft. He both started and relieved during his sophomore year, but moved exclusively to the bullpen as a junior and set the school record for saves with 13.
“I love the late innings. I love the pressure. I love coming in with a one-run lead,” Demel said. “That’s when everybody in the stands gets going. In the ninth inning, it’s 20,000 people yelling. You’ve got everybody screaming.”
With the high-speed progress Demel is making, he could soon be hearing those screams in a big league stadium. Only now it will be in Arizona.