Cody Sedlock, the Orioles' top draft pick in 2016, takes the mound Saturday to kick off a second season with the High-A Frederick Keys with something to prove. His full debut season, marred by elbow soreness and the general ineffectiveness that came with it, took a lot of the shine off his prospect status.
But with a healthy offseason and a new outlook on how to repeat his delivery, Sedlock hopes to erase the bad taste left in everyone's mouths with a fresh start this year that could get him back on track for 2018 and beyond.
"It's great — especially when something's been taken away from you, to be on the same program as everyone else and building up for a long season, it feels great," Sedlock said this spring in Sarasota, Fla. "I'm just happy to be healthy and I'm happy to be able to play the game I love to play. I'm going to take it one step at a time. I know, with my ability and who I am really as a pitcher, all that stuff will take care of itself and hopefully, everything will work out great."
As a first-round pick out of Illinois in 2016, Sedlock carried high expectations into the Orioles system — and delivered. He showed an advanced four-pitch mix for Short-A Aberdeen that summer, and skipped Low-A Delmarva to start the 2017 season.
But he never quite felt right that spring, and his delivery looked off to those in the organization. Some with the team believed he'd changed his delivery at home that offseason to add velocity, but Sedlock staunchly denies that.
Sedlock, 22, said any changes in his delivery happened because of his elbow problem, which was ultimately diagnosed as a strained flexor mass.
"My elbow was bothering me pretty much all offseason last offseason — not with throwing, but with working out, shaking hands, stuff like that," he said. "I knew something was off, but it didn't hurt when I threw, so I didn't think anything was wrong. I've never been hurt before. I don't know if that was just because I was compensating from that or what, but I really didn't feel right even coming into spring training."
Despite that, he had a 1.64 ERA through his first four starts, and even with a rough final start in April, ended the first month with a 3.71 ERA. It all went downhill from there. Sedlock allowed six or more earned runs in four of five starts, and started missing time for the elbow in June.
"My ball didn't have the same action and I wasn't commanding it well or anything," Sedlock said. "But then — kind of just through competition, once I got to Frederick, I did pretty well the first month, even with my delivery not being what it should be. So no one really said anything, because I was doing well. You're in a results-based environment. So then I started having a couple bad outings and video comes up, and they said there's some different things."
He certainly looked different to the naked eye, the late movement on his pitches that made him successful as an amateur was gone and his stuff was flat.
"I knew I felt different and everything, but I think it was just with me compensating because of my elbow," Sedlock said. "It didn't feel like it should out of my hand. I don't know if I was compensating for that and getting real rotational, but I kind of just dug myself into a hole. You try to listen to as many people as you can when you're in such a low spot, and that kind of just digs you into a deeper hole instead of just coming back to who you are as a pitcher. At the end of the season, after my second stint on the DL, I said, 'I'm just going to do what my body feels.' I've gotten back and worked on my delivery, and it's gotten back to where I was, if not better."
Before that, Sedlock said he was one who had never really worked on his delivery. A natural athlete, he said he wasn't coached on the mechanical aspects of it and found that aspect hard. So he's going more by feel, and even if some of the problems from 2017 existed before and were just part of his delivery, he describes plenty to correct for this year.
"A lot of it was getting to here and my front-side was flying open and my hips weren't getting open toward the plate; my momentum wasn't going toward the plate," Sedlock said. "I was landing too close and flying off of my land foot, stuff like that. I think instead of trying to be mechanical with it, I should have went toward the mental approach. That's what I'm doing now, and my body is going to follow, just as an athlete."
He threw some bullpens at Ed Smith Stadium under the supervision of the major league coaching staff this spring, and bullpen coach Alan Mills drilled him on mental cues and how to hit the important parts of his delivery without getting mechanical.
"Those are my best pitches, when I do that and I'm not thinking about mechanics or anything like that," Sedlock said. "I think I dug myself into a big hole mechanically, but I think it came from me working on the wrong stuff and listening to too much stuff."
Success for Sedlock will mean a return to the form that made him so promising, with four potentially above-average pitches that hitters have to honor and a durable body. He can tell the difference just from spring.
"Last year, when the ball came out of my hand, it was like I was — I don't know if I didn't have that last little bit because of my elbow or what, but it just felt like I was pushing it to the plate," Sedlock said. "I had no idea where the ball was going. I could have perfect mindset, everything, going to one spot and it would end up with not-good action and too early a sink on my fastball or too loopy on my slider or whatever. Now, I'm throwing, everything is in line and right in front of the plate, that's where everything is breaking. I'm able to throw the ball where I want to throw, and I'm comfortable with all my pitches."