Sauer possesses potential in bulk His build, skills make impression

August 08, 1993|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Staff Writer

"He's built like a brick house," said batting coach Jimmy Piersall, describing one of the newest acquisitions to the Chicago Cubs' rookie league baseball team.

"If a fight breaks out, I want him on my side."

The object of Piersall's praise is John Sauer, a solidly built 6-foot-2, 215-pounder who earned All-Metro honors in baseball before graduating from Patterson this past spring.

Behind McDonogh's two-time All-Metro hurler Kenny Cloude, whom the Seattle Mariners took in the sixth round, Sauer was the area's second-highest draftee and the third highest in the state, taken in the 28th round.

Because Sauer had been heavily watched by the Mariners and the Florida Marlins among others, the Cubs' pick surprised some -- but not Sauer.

"The Cubs' [scout] was Bill Swoope, and I played good in all three of the games he saw me in," said Sauer, who signed his contract a week after the early June draft and left the next day for the Cubs' rookie program, based in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "I only played well in one of the three games the Mariners saw me, so I didn't think they'd pick me."

While outfield coach Jerome Williams "was very impressed" by Sauer's natural abilities and pure physical strength, intangibles contributed to Sauer's high school football and baseball success, such as his tunnel-vision focus, an imposing stare coupled with insults that often distracted his adversaries, and the sheer power to overwhelm the opposition.

Sauer was a punishing running back with an excellent blend of speed (a 4.6-second 40-yard --) and power (a 325-pound bench press).

Earning second-team All-Metro honors in football last fall, Sauer rushed for 1,482 yards and 21 touchdowns and had 84 tackles from his strong safety position to lead the 10-1 Clippers to the Maryland Scholastic Association B Conference crown.

The center fielder showed equal versatility on the diamond, batting .500 with five homers, four doubles, four triples, 26 RBI, 27 runs scored and 17-for-17 in stolen bases.

Chosen The Baltimore Sun's All-City Player of the Year, Sauer was walked 15 times -- five times intentionally -- and committed just one error. He was simply overpowering as a pitcher with a 1.85 ERA, going 6-3 in 52 2/3 innnings with 89 strikeouts.

"In high school, I was the big fish, and I loved to intimidate. But for a while down here, I was the one who was being intimidated," said Sauer, 18, from the two-bedroom apartment he shares with two teammates.

"It took me about four days to get used to playing with guys from all over the world," said Sauer, who is the Cubs' No. 2 man in right field behind Ed Garcia of the Dominican Republic. "Pitchers here average 86 or 87 mph and throw inside fastballs in the 90s, so you don't have time to think."

Through 15 games dating to Aug. 2, Sauer's stats paled in comparison to his senior season at Patterson.

His .176 batting average with an RBI was comprised of six singles in 34 at-bats. He had scored seven times with three steals and an error.

"Hitting is a matter of timing -- I'm working on that," said Sauer. "But I know everyone goes through this. My coaches aren't down me about anything, so I know it'll all come around."

Certain improvements in mechanics, said Piersall, should raise Sauer's numbers.

"He came here using mostly his arms to swing the bat," said Piersall. "We've got him cocking his hips more, getting more power with a turn off his back foot, and getting his hands back a little before snapping forward. My drills are hard, but he's got a great attitude."

Sauer's daily weight-training regimen is geared for endurance rather than power, because "he's gotten so muscular, it's hard for him to stay loose," Piersall said.

Adjusting to wooden bats was another change for Sauer, who admits having been spoiled by the lighter aluminum models permitted in high school.

The rigors of the Cubs' daily games also have taken their toll. Noontime games in the East Division of the Gulf Coast League are sandwiched between two-hour practices.

"You're on the field eight hours a day," Sauer said. "It's a full-time job."

In a drill two weeks ago, Sauer posted his swiftest-ever 60-yard -- time (6.7 seconds) -- "major-league speed," said Williams, calling Sauer his fastest of eight outfielders.

"After a swing, he goes from home to first in 4.1 seconds. The average major-leaguer does it in 4.4 or 4.5," Williams said. "He clocks 3.8 seconds on a bunt."

Sauer's versatility allows him to play all three outfield positions, but he played his best game at right field, throwing out a man at third, hitting 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI and stealing three bases.

"We can play John in right or left because of his speed," said Williams. "Garcia's got more experience at this level, having been through spring training, but John's a better player physically. We know he'll improve because he learns quickly and he's very coachable."

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