The Cleveland Indians have the youngest team in baseball. I am showcasing each of these player’s journeys in a series called “Behind the Dream.” To start the series, I have chosen Nick Sandlin. Each week will be another player’s story in no particular order.
Due to the absence of Minor League play in 2020 many fans are not familiar with the guys who’ve joined the Tribe. I feel that often times we see a new young face in the roster and don’t know enough about how they got there. The grind to get to the Major League’s is difficult. Each player’s story is unique.
After three years in the minors Sandlin found his way to the majors this year. Sandlin made his big-league debut for the Indians on May 1, 2021. The right-handed reliever pitched one inning without allowing a hit and recorded one strikeout. The Indians lost that game to the White Sox. Sandlin didn’t factor in the decision.
When Sandlin was asked postgame if it were everything he dreamed it would be on the big-league mound he had this to say:
“Yeah, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity for a while, and I’ve been working hard… it was a pretty good day obviously it would have been great to get the win today, so it takes away from it a little bit but good to get out there for the first time to experience it.”
Sandlin’s parents were able to attend his debut. That was something that he was grateful for. Due to COVID protocols last season fans were not allowed at games. Sandlin mentioned that he was happy his debut was in 2021 so his family could attend.
Sandlin is a product of the University of Southern Mississippi baseball organization. The right-hander held a leading career 1.70 ERA for the University. USM’s head coach Scott Berry stated “he’s probably the best I’ve ever had” during a press conference when Sandlin signed with the Indians.
Berry also spoke fondly of Sandlin’s demeanor both on and off the field. He wasn’t the only one to do so. Toby Barker, Mayor of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, had this to say to me prior to Sandlin’s debut–
“Student athletes become part of the community in Hattiesburg. At Southern Miss, Coach Berry fosters an environment with high expectations of character and community involvement. Many of the players live in neighborhoods side by side with long-term residents. We were making a final push for absentee votes before the June 6th election.
"And here were some of the most talented baseball players in our university’s history preparing for the most important postseason of their lives - yet they still took the time to get their votes in through the absentee process. On the way back from City Hall, they get into a fender bender right in front of our campaign office. Someone calls me, and immediately the campaign becomes a non-issue.
"After it was clear that it wasn’t serious, then everyone starts asking: “Is Nick’s arm, ok?” I even dispatched our campaign chairman to personally check out the situation. With all that said, we are incredibly excited about Nick’s opportunity. He has worked so hard, and so many in our city will be rooting for him.”
During his Junior year Sandlin won the Ferriss trophy award, the USA pitcher of the year award as well as the National pitcher of the year courtesy of Perfect Game and Rawlings.
Sandlin was the Tribe’s 2018 67th draft pick.
In 2019 Sandlin had forearm surgery and returned to Cleveland’s alternate site in 2020. He did not pitch in an official game that season but was a non-roster invitee to the Indians’ spring training this year.
Sandlin was impressive in Goodyear, Arizona. In his spring training debut, he pitched a scoreless 9th inning fanning two batters. His fastball topped out at 96 mph. Sandlin showed control coming into a game in the Cactus League where the bases were loaded. He was able to strike out both batters he faced to end the inning.
Sandlin was advised on March 20 that he did not make the Indians’ starting day roster. However, he was kept at camp for developmental purposes. His stat line for spring training was 3.2 IP 2H 0R 0ER 3BB 8SO 0.00 ERA.
The 24-year-old welcomed the extra time with the team at Spring Training. When asked what it meant to stay with the team til they broke camp Sandlin said “That was nice just to stick around, stay with the guys, get to know people a little better obviously that’s where everybody wants to be during spring training they told me I might be able to get consistent innings maybe down low if I wanted to go down but I told them no whenever there’s opportunities to throw I’ll go to however many games I need to go to and if the opportunity arises I’ll be ready kind of like in the season you just gotta be ready whenever.”
He also felt it aided him saying “it definitely helps cause as I said as a reliever you never know what the situation is gonna be it’s kind of how it was treated for the rest of those games.”
To date with the Indians, Sandlin carries a 1.86 ERA through 19.1 innings pitched. He’s allowed five hits, four runs and struck out 29 batters.