Tyler Ladendorf Joins ‘From Phenom To The Farm:’ Episode 71

Image credit: David Welker / Four Seam Images

Despite a shoulder injury that derailed his junior season of high school at Maine West High School, just outside of Chicago, Tyler Ladendorf drew plenty of interest from both college and pro scouts as a senior. Ladendorf committed to Howard College, a junior college in tiny Big Spring, TX.

Not a glamourous choice, by any stretch, but for Ladendorf, Howard’s West Texas weather was as good as any pristine field or stellar facilities, because playing spring baseball in Illinois is a different kind of cold.


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“You’re really not going to have a chance to practice outside,” said Ladendorf. “When the snow thaws, and the field is dry enough, you’re rolling into games—it’s going to be cold.”

However, playing for the Howard College Hawks wasn’t the only option for Ladendorf out of high school. In the last year of the draft-and-follow system for players heading to junior college, the Yankees took him in the 34th round, intending to do just that, and made him a quality offer to avoid Ladendorf re-testing the draft waters as a college freshman.

“The money was undoubtedly respectable—it was tough, because it was just me, my mom and my grandma,” said Ladendorf. “I knew that I needed to go down (to Howard) and just get a little bit healthier (…) I wouldn’t trade those years at Howard for anything.”

Howard wouldn’t trade its years with Ladendorf either—as a freshman he led junior college baseball with 65 stolen bases in 65 tries, and during his sophomore campaign led the nation with an eye-popping .542 batting average, tacking on 16 home runs to boot.

Ladendorf was just the second junior college player taken in the 2008 draft, going 60th overall to the Twins, with his investment in himself paying off to the tune of a $673,000 bonus. Midway through his first full professional season, Minnesota swapped to Oakland him for veteran shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Ladendorf’s first full season for Oakland looked like a good early return on investment, slashing .274/.326/.385 while playing above-average infield defense.

By 2011, Ladendorf arrived in Double-A Midland—and stayed for a while in Double-A Midland. The jump from High-A to the Texas League proved to be quite the early challenge, between difficult hitting environments and formidable opponents.

“I get to Double-A and this is right when the Cardinals have Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez—we went to Little Rock, you’re talking about Matt Shoemaker, Garrett Richards, Trevor Reckling,” said Ladendorf. “The crop of pitchers in that league when I first got there, I’ll tell you what, if this is Double-A pitching I got no shot at the big leagues—I swear there is a month where that is the absolute thought process.”

Ladendorf learned over time to power through the tough situations, continuing to fall back on his stellar defense while steadily improving at the plate. Following three seasons in Midland in which his offensive numbers improved each go-round and a quality performance in 2014 with Triple-A Sacramento, Ladendorf made Oakland’s 2015 Opening Day roster.

His arrival in the big leagues also meant his end of being a starter. Ladendorf spent 53 games on Oakland’s big league roster during the 2015-2016 seasons, over the course of which he logged time at six different defensive positions, learning versatility in the field. Fortunately, he was learning from the best.

“I learned how to prepare—being able to watch Ben Zobrist, a dude that was pretty good regardless of what position he started at,” said Ladendorf. “Being fortunate to be around some good utility guys, in particular Zobrist, right away, it’s tough to put a price tag on that.”

Following being outrighted off Oakland’s 40-man in the 2016 offseason, Ladendorf bounced around the minors, playing mostly in Triple-A before moving catching on with High Point of the Atlantic League for the 2019 season. He turned in an All-Star campaign, but received no calls to return to the big leagues.

Like many, Ladendorf missed the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and by spring of 2021 had turned his sights on the future, working as an assistant coach at Marshall University during the spring. Then the Cubs called.

As Marshall’s season ended, Coach Ladendorf got back to playing, heading to Triple-A Iowa. More than five years after his last big league at-bat, Ladendorf got the call one last time, appearing in one game, with one at-bat for his hometown Cubs. He returned to High Point in 2022, playing one final season before again making the move to coaching—back with the Cubs, who recently announced the hiring of Ladendorf as a hitting fellow.

While Ladendorf begins the 2023 season in the pro ranks, he’s unsure as to his long-term path in coaching. The only thing he knows is that his well-traveled route through baseball allows him to establish rapport with players in all facets of the game.

“I enjoyed coaching in college, I enjoyed that age group,” said Ladendorf. “I think the way I had to go about it to get to the big leagues just makes me very relatable, and allows me to relate with just about everybody (…) I haven’t found a part of coaching that I like more than the other.”

On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ former big league infielder and current Cubs hitting fellow Tyler Ladendorf joins to talk junior college stardom, making adjustments in Double-A, and pre-game fielding work with Ron Washington.

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