Erik Sabrowski knew there was a chance he would get taken in Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 Draft, but he didn’t let it get in the way of what he already had planned.
Already a month into the rehabilitation from his second Tommy John Surgery, the Edmonton native was relaxing on a training table at the San Diego Padres facility in Arizona when he found out he was chosen by the Cleveland Guardians with the 11th overall selection.
“I had known for about three weeks that there was a strong possibility of me going in the draft,” Sabrowski told Alberta Dugout Stories. “My agent had called me sometime in November, after the Triple-A protected rosters had been finalized, to let me know that I wasn’t on San Diego’s roster.”
Just a few days later, his agent called again to say a couple of teams had shown interest.
“It became a bit of a stressful month, spent not knowing if my time as a Padre was coming to an end or where I would even be come the middle of December,” he said.
Sabrowski joined fellow Edmonton-area native Tanner Kirwer as two of the four Canadians chosen in the draft.
It’s been a tough start to Sabrowski’s professional career.
Shortly after being selected by San Diego in the 14th round of the 2018 MLB Draft, the hard-throwing lefthander went under the knife for his first surgery.
“To be honest, I was crushed,” Sabrowski said in an October 2019 episode of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “No kid dreams of starting their pro career sitting out for 16 months because they’re injured.”
The Cloud County Community College product was revved up to finally make his pro debut in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, so it was back to the workout room.
He utilized the extra downtime to make sure he was as prepared as possible to make a great first impression in a minor league stadium.
“I really feel like visualization helped me prepare to be back on the mound and dominate,” Sabrowski said. “That was really the only thing I could do to simulate game reps while not actually being able to pitch.”
Sabrowski thought he was ready for Spring Training 2021, but his arm had other ideas as he noticed some discomfort in his elbow during a bullpen session in February.
The Padres shut him down out of an abundance of caution, leading to another month-long stint on the injured list.
But it didn’t end there for the Edmonton Prospects alum.
“I felt the same elbow discomfort again during my first rehab outing at the start of June and my elbow hurt pretty bad the next day,” Sabrowski admitted. “That’s when I made the decision that I wasn’t going to tell anyone and push through it, feeling that I didn’t want to spend any more time in Arizona.”
Despite the injury, Sabrowski didn’t miss a beat.
Pitching for the High-A Fort Wayne TinCaps, the southpaw made eight appearances including three starts, picking up two wins and an eye-popping 41 strikeouts in just 29 innings of work.
“I was happy with my performance for the most part,” the 6-foot-4, 235-pound hurler said. “If I had one critique, I felt like I allowed myself to get beat by some bad pitch selection, like trying to throw a 1-2 slider instead of my curveball, which is my best pitch.”
Once the season came to an end, it was time to figure out what exactly was wrong with his throwing arm.
“It sounds like there was a bit of bad luck involved,” Sabrowski said. “A corner of my UCL was coming off the bone – whether it ever fully fused to the bone or not isn’t known – which led to it tearing away from the rest of the ligament over time and the accumulation of throws.”
So for the second time in three years, he was back on a long-term rehab assignment.
Despite the circumstances, Sabrowski wanted to maintain a positive outlook.
In mid-October, he posted a picture from his hospital bed with his left arm in a sling, a right thumbs-up, and a smile on his face with the caption: “Didn’t realize I signed up for the 2 for 1 TJ special.”
An upbeat take from someone who has been dealt a lot of bad cards.
“I’m very excited,” Sabrowski said. “Yes, there’s going to be some tough days and long hours involved, but I definitely think I can find some positives, as I learned quite a bit about my body and how I move during my first rehab.”
He’s also hopeful that the physical and mental habits he learned the first time around will allow him to come back even stronger, thanks in part to what he learned in San Diego’s farm system.
“I made some awesome friends in the Padres organization and received lots of great instruction from the staff,” he said. “I’m thankful for my time with them and appreciate their patience with me as I battled injury.”
CHANGE OF SCENERY
While the comeback will have to happen with a new organization, Sabrowski is excited about the opportunity for a fresh start with the Guardians.
“Cleveland’s rehab staff has a great track record of getting guys health and back on the field, as well as their player development staff is very good at developing and helping guys improve,” he said.
That team is fresh off helping Shane Bieber return from a strained subscapularis muscle in his right shoulder which sidelined the ace for nearly three months.
They are also helping Sabrowski’s fellow Canadian Josh Naylor recuperate from a July surgery to repair multiple fractures and ligament tearing to his right leg and ankle following an outfield collision, as well as top prospect Tyler Freeman’s shoulder injury.
“I think after a year with these guys and with Taylor Burns at Absolute Human Performance, I’m going to be in a really good position to fight my way into the big leagues come Spring 2023,” Sabrowski proclaimed.