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Former St. Albert Cardinal pitcher grinds toward big leagues

Left-hander Sabrowski has split 2024 season between the Cleveland Guardians AAA and AA farm teams
Fort Saskatchewan resident and former St. Albert Cardinal Erik Sabrowski pitching for the Cleveland Guardians' AA affiliate the Akron RubberDucks in 2023. CLOUD COUNTY COLLEGE/Facebook

Former St. Albert Cardinal Erik Sabrowski is steadily climbing his way up Major League Baseball's vast farm system, as he now dons the cap of the Cleveland Guardians' AAA affiliate team, the Columbus Clippers.

Sabrowski, 26, is a left-handed pitcher who spent his last four minor baseball seasons with the St. Albert Cardinals before a stellar 2017-18 season with the Cloud County Community College Thunderbirds in Concordia, Kan., led to him being drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 2018 MLB draft.

The Clippers, who called Sabrowski up from the AA Akron RubberDucks on May 24, are the highest-level affiliate in the Guardians' system, meaning that if Sabrowski strings together some impressive outings on the mound, he could soon find himself under the bright lights of MLB stadiums staring down the sport's best players.

Sabrowski isn't getting ahead of himself though, as he told the Gazette over the phone from a hotel in Omaha, Neb., he wants to use this promotion as an opportunity to show the organization he can be a reliable arm in the bullpen, and can also stay healthy all season — which unfortunately hasn't happened since his college days.

Tumultuous journey

Shortly after being drafted by the Padres back in 2018 Sabrowski underwent ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) surgery, commonly referred to in the baseball world as Tommy John surgery. The procedure aims to repair a partial or fully torn UCL, which is a ligament in the inner elbow that attaches the humerus in the upper arm to the ulna, a bone in the forearm, and works to keep the elbow stable. UCL tears are usually the result of overuse, the John Hopkins University School of Medicine reports, which is why it's a common injury among baseball pitchers.

Because of the lengthy rehabilitation period needed after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Sabrowski missed the entire 2019 baseball season. Sabrowski, as well as nearly every other professional baseball player, didn't see the field in 2020 either because of COVID-19 season cancellations.

Sabrowski got his first taste of professional action in 2021 with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, the Padres' High-A affiliate team. He pitched almost 30 innings across eight games with the TinCaps, and had a more than respectable stat line, as he held a 1.86 earned run average (ERA); a 1.03 walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP); and recorded 41 strikeouts compared to just 12 walks.

However, the Fort Saskatchewan resident's 2021 season came to a screeching halt that August, as another elbow injury meant he needed a second Tommy John operation.

Despite the set back, Sabrowski was picked by the Cleveland Guardians in the 2021 Minor League Baseball portion of the Rule 5 draft, which allows teams to select minor league players from other organizations who are left off of a list of 38 protected players.

Sabrowski missed the entire 2022 season and part of the 2023 campaign recovering from his second UCL surgery, and on June 2, 2023, he made his first appearance with a Guardians' affiliate team, the AA Akron RubberDucks. 

Showing minimal signs of rust, the former Cardinal finished the 2023 season with a commendable 2.49 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and 28 strikeouts across 21.2 innings.

While it doesn't show in his stats, Sabrowski said staying motivated while recovering from surgery was something he really struggled with.

“It's a really long process,” he said. “It definitely sucks for a little bit, but the whole time something that really helped me was remembering my ‘why.’”

“Remembering why I'm going to the complex to rehab for the 200th straight day and just making sure I know that in the end I will be healthy again and I will have opportunities like the one I have right now.”

Here and now

This year, for the first time since 2021, the lefty was able to start the season completely healthy.

“It was awesome to have a spring training for once,” he said. “Just getting the normal build up [which includes] a couple of live at-bats where it's just the hitter and pitcher and you do a couple of simulated games and you play some spring training games against other teams; and I got to get in a few big league spring training games this year.”

“That was a good kick-start to my season.”

Sabrowski, who works as a coach for Absolute Human Performance in St. Albert during the off-season, actually began the 2024 campaign with the AAA Clippers, but some early season struggles meant he was sent down to the AA RubberDucks after just three relief appearances and three innings pitched.

After rejoining the RubberDucks Sabrowski found his groove again and became one of the teams's best relief pitchers, giving up just one earned run across 11.2 innings between mid-April and May 23. Over this period Sabrowski struck out 26 batters and issued just two walks. The 26 strikeouts in just 11.2 innings means that he single-handedly produced 26 of the 35 possible outs.

Getting called up the Clippers on May 24, Sabrowski said, meant he woke up at 4 a.m. near Harrisburg, Penn., where the RubberDucks were in the midst of a four-game series against the Harrisburg Senators, took two flights to join the Clippers in Omaha in time for a 7 p.m. showdown against the Storm Chasers, in which he was tasked with handling the eighth inning.

Sabrowski's first appearance in AAA after a month-long stint with Akron started strong as he got the first batter he faced to pop-out, after which he striked out outfielder Drew Waters, who spent most of the 2023 season with the Kansas City Royals. Sabrowski then found himself in trouble as he walked two straight batters, the first of whom managed to score on a base hit by Devin Mann before one of the base-runners got thrown out advancing to third.

Mann's run-scoring single ended up being the winning run, and Sabrowski was tacked with the loss.

As of May 27, Sabrowski had yet to get the call from the bullpen again, but the Clippers kicked-off a four game series against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs on May 28.

“I think AA is really good baseball, and there's lots of guys that could just make the jump from AA to the big leagues and have some success, but I just think in AAA guys are on average a few years older so they have a few hundred or thousand more at bats, so they've seen that much more pitching,” Sabrowski said of what he's noticed the skill difference is between the two leagues. “I think the biggest difference, though, is that they're just smarter hitters.”

If Sabrowski makes waves at the AAA level in the weeks and months to come and gets the call from the big league club, he'd be just the second St. Albert-connected ballplayer to play in the MLB, from what the Gazette could find.

In 1985, fellow relief pitcher Dave Shipanoff of St. Albert pitched 36.1 innings in 26 games for the Philadelphia Phillies, although the '85 season was Shipanoff's first and only in MLB.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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