To find the small town of Ripley, Oklahoma, the best bet is to ask about its much bigger, neighboring city of Stillwater. With the sprawling Allen Williamson Bridge as the its lone landmark, Ripley is far from hosting any sort of large event, let alone housing a major league team. Baseball itself would be hard-pressed to pick a town more out-of-reach from the lights of The Show than Ripley – but current Indianapolis Indians pitcher Casey Sadler has broken that mold.
That journey from Ripley to the bright lights of Pittsburgh didn’t give Sadler a snarling underdog story, but rather quite the opposite. It does, however, fit the Indians wins leader rather well. The climb has defined Sadler and given him the confident-yet-humble style that he carries in the clubhouse and on the mound.
“I’ve never been one that was big, flashy; (just) gritty, just get it done,” Sadler says from the Victory Field dugout. “And that’s what I think has gotten me this far.”
It is a day after tossing his ninth of 10 total quality starts – a dominant, six-inning outing with five strikeouts and a Tribe victory. Nonetheless, he’s drenched in sweat from his most recent throwing session.
“I don’t necessarily have outstanding ability,” he continues, “You know, but I definitely have an ability to [control] this: Hard work, dedication, discipline. Those are things I strive for every day, even in my regular life.”
All those characteristics, while enviable, did not translate into immediate results. But they were crucial along the long-shot path of becoming a professional ballplayer. Especially considering his route along the way, where his high school competition was just 13 players from a 30-man graduating class, his college career as a walk-on bullpen arm at Western Oklahoma State, and a 25th-round selection of the 2010 draft.
“I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, I don’t view it like that at all.” Sadler says with a slight grin which has temporarily replaced his amicable smile. “It just shows that it doesn’t really matter where you’re drafted, how much money you get or whatever. If you want something bad enough and you’re willing to work hard enough to go get it, then the only one that’s going to stop you from achieving that is yourself.”
Therefore, ‘unexpected’ isn’t necessarily the right word when Sadler received his second phone call from the Pirates, the one that changed his story from a minor league star to one of the few, select members of Major League Baseball.
“It was an absolute huge blessing to get to pitch in the major leagues,” Sadler begins. “But I think that’s what everybody in this game strives for. I didn’t surprise myself (when he made it to Pittsburgh). I expected to be able to do that.”
Sadler began his climb to an IL All-Star selection and MLB debut with a stint for Short-Season State College in 2010, Lo-A West Virginia in 2011 and Hi-A Bradenton in 2012. He then pitched across two levels for the first time in his career during the 2013 campaign, excelling as Double-A Altoona’s Pitcher of the Year en route to a late-season promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis.
This year, 80 innings, 13 starts and eight Triple-A wins into the 2014 campaign, Sadler can now add the milestone of ‘Triple-A All-Star Game” to his climb through professional baseball.
And again, while excited for the opportunity, ‘unexpected’ isn’t a fair description.
“You work hard, you do what you’re supposed to do – come in and get your work in every day and go out and compete and leave everything on the field…you’ll achieve it,” Sadler starts. “It’s definitely a blessing and I’m very grateful for it.”
The preparation is paying off for the Indians’ ace. Sadler has made short work of Triple-A batters, turning in the third-best ERA (2.36) in the International League while dropping only two of 14 starts through the ‘first half’ of the season. What’s more, he’s finding easy success without an overpowering, high-90s fastball, as Sadler has relied on location and movement rather than lighting up the radar gun.
“(Velocity has) not ever been a real big concern with me.” Sadler says likely reminiscing of previous outings throughout his life. “(I’ve) got a lot of movement. You see how many guys in the big leagues that are 89-to-93. A well-placed pitch is more important than throwing 97…Honestly, I think it’s made me a better pitcher because I have to be more in control with what I’m doing and make my pitches.”
Sadler’s standout 2014 campaign has also featured a first taste of a Major League environment with the then-23-year-old joining the Pittsburgh Pirates for four appearances over two MLB stints. His reward? An MLB-debut inning against 2012 All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera, two-time Hank Aaron Award winner Jose Bautista and three-time organizational “Best Power Hitter” Juan Francisco.
The results? Flyout, groundout, lineout.
Should make for a seamless return to the lineups he’ll face in the International League.
“I don’t think (his approach) ever really changes, at least for me, because I’m not going to be two different pitchers. I’m just going to go out and do what I do. Going up there and spending time with those guys, getting to pitch up there and stuff it definitely kind of gives you a perspective on ‘hey, you know, you can do it.,” Sadler says beamingly. “It’s on a higher stage but it’s still the same game, the concept is still the same. You go out, you get outs. You go win ball games.“
Sadler’s next stage is the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday, July 16 in Durham, NC. If his squad calls upon the righty’s services at the showcase, the Tribe’s ace will have a chance to match wits with the Pacific Coast League’s top talent on the national stage of MLB Network.
Again, something he not only hopes, but also expects, to handle with his homegrown, “not big or flashy” style.
Just get the batters out.
“It’s hard enough to be a hitter, so (I pitch with a style to) just to let them get themselves out, and that’s pretty much what I work on every day.”
1. Pirates Picture – @Pirates – https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BmrdxFlCcAEIWE8.jpg:large
2. State College – http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20140505&content_id=74400914&fext=.jsp&vkey=news_t1174&sid=t1174
3. Altoona – https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5481/9254326732_a001f8c4fa_b.jpg
4. Sprint Training – http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/mysuncoast.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/a/63/a633b17a-94f8-11e3-9aba-001a4bcf6878/52fd3deb63338.preview-300.jpg
5. Sadler Indians pictures – Bill Gentry/Indianapolis Indians