Image credit: Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
During his senior year at Spring (TX) High School, hard-throwing right-hander Sam Demel had his eye on pro ball. While not quite the prospect that his neighbor—Spring alumnus Josh Beckett—had been five years prior, Demel was receiving plenty early round interest from MLB organizations.
Powered by RedCircle
He viewed his commitment to TCU as a backup plan–a good backup plan, a school he was excited to play for, but a backup plan nonetheless. However, when the early rounds passed with no selection, Demel made his backup plan his main plan. Demel enrolled at TCU in the fall of 2004, which he credits to positive development as a ballplayer.
“A lot of direction, a lot of growth that happened really, really quickly in college learning from (then-head coach Jim Schlossnagle) and the staff there,” said Demel. “I’m happy the route that it ended up going, for sure.”
Early in his TCU career, Demel logged most of his innings via starts, but during his sophomore season, Schlossnagle came to him with a plan to help a withering Horn Frog bullpen.
“Our bullpen was struggling,” said Demel. “He (Schlossnagle) comes up to me and goes ‘Hey, you’ve got the most recovery, your arm bounces back the quickest, what’re your thoughts on closing Friday or Saturday and starting on Sunday for us?’”
Demel rolled with the hybrid role for the rest of the 2006 season, bolstering the bullpen but hindering his effectiveness during the Sunday start. Following his sophomore year, he moved to the bullpen full-time, appealing to professional scouts who saw his future in a pen role and his personality on the mound.
“I loved the ability to know that I could come in, close out a game and finish it off—just go out and blow it out,” said Demel. “It was much more fun for me, and I thought there was a lot more pressure in the 9th than there ever was in the 1st through 5th.”
Demel turned in a solid junior season as TCU’s closer and was selected by the A’s with their 3rd round pick in the 2007 draft. Like many effective college relievers, Demel was pegged as having potential to impact a big league pen quickly.
By his second full season he reached Triple-A, and following a 2010 mid-season trade to the D-Backs, Demel jumped right into the Arizona bullpen at age 24. It’s not uncommon for a player on that rapid an ascent to see no end to the ride in site. Demel, and his wife Jennifer, were quite the opposite. Focused as they were on sticking and succeeding in the big leagues, both Demels started thinking early about life after baseball.
“We both knew no matter how much time we spent in the big leagues, how much money we made in the big leagues, there was always an end,” said Demel. “We decided to make sure that we weren’t a statistic—had a great run of it, had a great lifestyle, but when it’s all said and done, now how do you live? (…) So we started setting ourselves up pretty early when we had the ability to.”
The couple flipped houses and planned out potential investments during Demel’s career. On the field, Demel pitched in parts of two big league seasons for the D-Backs before getting caught in an organizational shuffle, hopping between three organizations in two years trying to find a path back to the big leagues. After switching to the starting rotation while in Triple-A with the Dodgers in 2014, Demel went down with Tommy John surgery—receiving the news post-operation from Dr. James Andrews that Demel’s elbow was one of the worst he’d seen, and he was in for a beating when it came to the rehabilitation process.
Andrews wasn’t wrong—Demel went through the wringer throughout a long rehab getting back to 100%. During that rehab, life outside of baseball came into an even clearer focus—working in real estate and spending a lot of times with his kids. Even once he’d finally gotten his stuff back to pre-injury form, Demel was ready to step away and into the next phase of his life.
“I think that for me was the reason why I could step away,” said Demel. “I gave myself the ability to get back, and still made the decision.”
On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ former big league righthander Sam Demel joins to talk playing for an upstart program in TCU, the toughest adjustment in going from a college bullpen to a professional bullpen, and the importance of preparing for life after baseball.