TAMPA, Fla.—Before they took him with their second-round selection, righthander Matt Sauer had a pretty good feeling the Yankees would be in the mix to take him early. Even it though it wasn’t a huge surprise, it was a still as great a feeling as you’d expect.
“It was pretty amazing. All of my family and friends were at the house and once I got the phone call the house just erupted,” he said. “It was just amazing. A lot of emotions were going through the house. It was truly a blessing to be there with my family and it truly was awesome.”
Part of the reason he vaulted up draft boards this spring was a spike in velocity. During the previous year’s showcase circuit, Sauer, a 6-foot-4, 207-pound righthander, sat between 89-91 with his fastball and touched as high as 93. He touched 95 at an MLB-sanctioned event in January, and reached 97 during his senior season with Righetti High in Santa Maria, Calif.
After that, scouts began coming to see him in droves. The new velocity on his fastball was nice, but he had to take some big-time initiative to get there. He put on 20 pounds of muscle between his junior and senior seasons, but he wasn’t working with any of the many high-profile trainers out there who regularly help athletes make big-time gains.
“Actually, I didn’t have (a trainer) back home. We’re from a small town and I just kind of did my own thing in the offseason,” Sauer said. “I had a guy who went to my high school and he played a little pro ball and he owns a gym in hometown. He set things up a little bit, but other than that I just did my own stuff.”
The former pro was John Thomas, a lefthander who was selected out of Righetti High in the second round of the 1999 draft. He pitched professionally for six seasons before succumbing to arm injuries.
From the first pitch of his final high school season, Sauer felt the difference all the added bulk made.
“First game, I came out and threw 95 mph,” he recalled. “I felt great going into the season. My arm was healthy the whole year and is still healthy, which is the biggest key. I haven’t had any arm issues, which is truly a blessing.”
The Yankees gave Sauer $2,497,500 to steer him away from his commitment to Arizona, where he had the potential to be a two-way player. He’s made two appearances so far in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League (with seven strikeouts over 3.1 innings) but is already loving his pro experience.
He’s learned that everybody in pro ball can hit a fastball, which means he’ll need to stay sharp with his offspeed pitches too. He currently throws a changeup, curveball and slider in addition to his fastball, but he and the Yankees will work in the fall instructional league to determine which breaking pitch to feature most prominently as he develops.
For now, though, Sauer will finish out the last few weeks in the GCL and try to make as much as he can out of the nascent stages of his pro career.
“This is a daily grind, but I’m learning every day, trying to be a sponge and soaking everything up,” he said. “It’s just a great experience out here.”