photo: Bryan Dobzanski (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)
When Bryan Dobzanski was called into manager Chris Swauger’s office in June 2017, he assumed the worst.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ 29th round draft pick from 2014 was struggling in his first season with Low-A Peoria, going 1-5 with a 4.86 ERA and just 37 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings as a starter.
In those moments before heading into Swauger’s office, Dobzanski was left wondering if a demotion was in his future, or worse, a release.
“It didn’t turn out to be a release or anything,” Dobzanski said.
Dobzanski didn’t exactly suffer a demotion either, but he said it felt like one – he was getting sent to the bullpen.
“You kind of feel your stomach drop a bit,” he said.
Dobzanski had a 1.98 ERA the rest of the season as a reliever, and he has only continued to get better with more experience.
“At that point, it was the right direction,” Dobzanski said. “I wasn’t too upset after that point. It worked out to be the best for me.”
Dobzanski’s issue as a starter was about a pursuit of perfection. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, the two-time New Jersey state wrestling champion has athleticism few baseball players possess, yet his fastball sat in the high-80s.
“As a starter, you feel like your responsibility is to go pretty deep,” Dobzanski said. “You pace yourself and not giving everything you have into every pitch. That was the wrong thing to do.”
When Dobzanski was told he would be used in a relief role, Swauger said the next time he was on the mound, “throw as hard as you can.”
“As a reliever, it’s a different mentality where you get three to six outs or whatever they are asking,” Dobzanski said. “The night after (I moved to the bullpen) my velocity was higher and it seemed like everything was playing a lot better.”
2018 marked Dobzanski’s first full season as a reliever. He returned to Peoria, where he became one of the best relievers in the Midwest League.
Combining an eight percent jump in his strikeout rate with a two percent drop in his walk rate, Dobzanski cut his ERA down nearly a full point from 2017. A big part of his improvement began with a change in how he went about his offseason workouts.
Since he has been in professional ball, Dobzanski had always done football and wrestling workouts in his high school gym. In the offseason of 2017, he instead went to California and trained with Jack Flaherty for a couple of months.
“It showed me how an elite level athlete should be training for that specific sport – obviously baseball for me,” Dobzanski said.
Dobzanski has continued his refined plan ever since, working out at Maplezone Sports Institute. After revitalizing his workout routine, he has experienced considerable success this year in his second full season as a reliever.
He started the year at High-A Palm Beach and was bumped up to Double-A Springfield in June. Across those two levels, he has a 2.61 ERA in 39 games with 56 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings.
Dobzanski’s experience as a starter makes him an extremely valuable reliever.
“He has been good since he has come up from Palm Beach,” Kruzel said. “He has done a couple different things for us. He has pitched in middle relief. Sometimes I have asked him to go two or even three innings at a time. We have asked him to start one time and he took the ball and ran with it.
“He has also pitched at the back end of the game, so he gives you versatility out of that bullpen to do a couple of different things. He has responded well to each and every one of those challenges. He competes. He throws strikes. He has three quality pitches and makes quality pitches.”
Dobzanski had been losing faith in himself before the change, which is unusual for someone who has dominated in athletic situations.
Take his wrestling career, for example. Dobzanski was 158-8 as a high school wrestler and he can still remember stirring fear in opponents when they saw who they would be up against.
Dobzanski has gotten that same edge back, but as a reliever now.
“Being the top dawg – that is always what I looked forward to during the wrestling season,” Dobzanski said. “I try to take that one-on-one mentality out there – pitcher versus hitter – because that is what it feels like when you are out there on the mound. The ball is in your hand every single play.
“Everybody loves success, so when your snowballing with success, your confidence is through the roof.”
That increase in confidence has allowed Dobzanski to trust his stuff and throw his fastball and slider with conviction.
Springfield pitching coach Darwin Marrero has noticed that change compared to when he had him as a starter in State College in 2016.
“He is very aggressive,” Marrero said. “He has always been very competitive. His stuff has been growing. He has been maturing. His body is maturing right now. He can coordinate much better than years ago. You can see right now how the ball is coming out of his hand.
“He looks a lot better right now.”
When Dobzanski was starting during the early stages of 2017, his secondary repertoire consisted of a curveball and he picked up a slider in his transition to the bullpen. After tinkering with a few grips, Dobzanski has found one this year and stuck with it.
But there have been some growing pains with his slider as a result.
“It’s really just not trying to manipulate it,” Dobzanski said. “When I go out there, I’m trying to get this big break and trying to manipulate the pitch. It doesn’t do what you want it to, but I have to let the grip do the work and throw it like a fastball as hard as I can.
“That is when it has been the best for me.”
In addition to his coaches, Dobzanski has also piqued the interest of scouts as well.
He has an above-average heater that sits 95-97 and his slider has the potential to be an above-average offering as well. With good control and command, scouts say he has the upside of a seventh-inning major-league reliever.
With confidence and conviction on his side, Dobzanski’s vision for the future has never been clearer.
Obviously, I want to finish this season strong,” Dobzanski said. “Attack the offseason and get in the weight room right away, and lift some pretty heavy weight around. Get stronger and build that lower half. Hopefully, I’ll come back with some more mph on my fastball and a sharper slider.
“Hopefully, I’ll show out in spring training. Whatever happens there or wherever I start, next year my main goal is to end up in the big-leagues at some point. That is the target for me.”
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