BY STEVE KRAH
Andrew Saalfrank has the physical tools to pitch a baseball at high levels.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-hander was a standout at Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., where he graduated in 2016 then for three seasons at Indiana University (he was a weekend starter in 2019) and now in his first professional season in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
After making 15 appearances (12 as a starter) and going 8-1 with a 2.84 earned run average, 98 strikeouts and 26 walks in 73 innings for IU this spring, Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Year Saalfrank was selected in the sixth round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
So far, the southpaw has pitched three of one-inning stints — one for the rookie-level Arizona League Diamondbacks and two for the short-season Class-A Northwest League’s Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops and is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA, three strikeouts and one walk. Since he pitched so many innings in the spring, the D-backs are limited his load this summer.
As of now, the next steps up the ladder for the Diamondbacks are at Low-A Kane County (Ill.), Advanced-A Visalia (Calif.), Double-A Jackson (Tenn.) and Triple-A Reno (Nev.).
Delivering from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Saalfrank uses a two-seam fastball, curveball and change-up in games. His fastball has been between 89 and 93 mph. His curve is 83 to 84 and usually has more of a vertical plane. His change-up his been especially sharp this summer. In the bullpen, he has been tinkering with a four-seam fastball and working on a slider.
It’s not just his left arm that has gotten Saalfrank to this point.
“A lot of stuff can go wrong in the game and it doesn’t bother me often,” says Saalfrank. “There’s such a large mental aspect to the game.
“Sometimes you don’t have the greatest physical talent. Playing college ball helps you deal with different situations. You’re good enough. You tell yourself that and deal with the situation that’s thrown at you.”
Saalfrank’s training at Indiana was focused on getting ready for pro ball and now he’s here.
With academic and college time restrictions out of the way, he can put his time into baseball.
“I don’t sleep in too late,” says Saalfrank. “I wake up at 8:30 or 9 everyday.”
That gives him time to relax, grab a meal and head to the stadium, where he will spend up to eight hours for a Hillsboro home game. Stretching begins about three hours before first pitch. On many days, there is weightlifting before or after the game.
“The time commitment is the difference,” says Saalfrank. “It’s fun. I’m getting paid to do what I wanted to do for a living.
“I’m lucky enough to do it.”
Saalfrank was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Hoagland, Ind. Father Doug Saalfrank is a supervisor at B.F. Goodrich. Mother Heidi Saalfrank is a sales representative for Heritage Food Services. Older sister Abby Saalfrank was also an NCAA Division I athlete, playing volleyball at Eastern Illinois University.
Heidi Saalfrank’s brother and sister — Jason Richman (baseball) and Tiffany (Richman) Bennett (volleyball) — both played at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and influenced Andrew and Abby.
“We were always spending time with them and playing sports in the back yard,” says Andrew.
His organized baseball days began in the youth leagues in Hoagland and New Haven. He played for a number of travel teams, including the Indiana Outlaws at the end of his high school days.
Saalfrank took pitching instruction from Rich Dunno for about eight years.
“He played a big part,” says Saalfrank of Dunno, the Fort Wayne-based inventor of the King of the Hill ground force trainer.
At Heritage, Saalfrank was an all-stater as a junior and senior and a four-time all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection. His career mark was 26-7 with a 1.67 ERA and school-record 429 strikeouts and 218 1/3 innings. He was 10-1 with a 1.07 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings in 2015 and followed that up with a 2.15 ERA and 87 K’s in 45 2/3 innings in 2016.
Dean Lehrman was Patriots head coach. Saalfrank credits Lehrman for his emphasis on the mental and emotional aspects of baseball.
“Respect the game,” says Saalfrank. “Respect your teammates. Play for the school name on your chest.”
Saalfrank was recruited to IU by Chris Lemonis (now at Mississippi State University) and worked with Lemonis and pitching coach Kyle Bunn (now at Middle Tennessee State University) for his first two collegiate seasons.
“(Bunn) pushes you,” says Saalfrank. “He expects a lot out of every player. He gets the most out of you. He uses tough love sometimes.”
“It was a really smooth transition for everybody,” says Saalfrank. “They have a pro style to development.
“It was on me to figure out what I like best and establish a routine to transition into pro ball.
“I learned about handling adversity and finding the positives out of failure.”
The minor league regular season goes through Labor Day then comes the playoffs. Saalfrank plans to return to Indiana in the fall to train and finish his sports management degree. He is just nine credits shy.
Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank pitches for Indiana University.
Andrew Saalfrank is a product of Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Indiana and worked for years with pitching instructor Rich Dunno.
Andrew Saalfrank, a former Heritage Junior/Senior High school and Indiana University left-hander, is now pitching in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)