Moving On Up
German pitcher Sven Schüller did what so many youngsters in Europe, and across the world, only daydream about. He signed a contract with a major league club. Sven was picked up by the LA Dodgers during the Major League Baseball European Elite Camp in 2012. Just one year later he signed a contract as an international free agent with the club. He was just 17 years old. Schüller told baseballEBM, “It felt good, though it wasn´t a huge surprise. I had been contacted by a scout from the Dodgers so, I was aware of the possibility.”
Born in Wuppertal, Germany, Sven fell in love with baseball at age of seven. He was visiting his aunt and she took him to a Double-A game in Bowie, Maryland. After the game she bought him his first glove and bat. Sven started to practice in his aunt’s backyard with his cousins. Two years later Sven joined the youth team of the Wuppertal Stingrays.
In 2011 Schüller went to the baseball academy in Regensburg. “Sven showed from the start that he has what it takes. He had a strong work ethic and understood what he had to do in order to make a career in baseball”, said Martin Brunner, who coached Schüller in Regensburg. The talented righty made his German senior national team debut at Prague Baseball Week in 2013. That same year he pitched for the Buchbinder Legionäre in the European Cup.
In 2014, Schüller moved to the States and joined the Arizona League Dodgers. “Obviously moving to Phoenix was a big thing but, at the end of the day, to adjust was quite easy. I was already used to organizing my life and the English language wasn’t a problem.” The Arizona League is rookie-level ball, the lowest rung of the minor-league system. The regular season is 56 games from mid-June until the end of August. Schüller spent 2014 and 2015 in the burning heat of Phoenix. Games are typically played in temperatures above 100F degrees (38C).
Last season Schüller started with the Arizona League Dodgers. After allowing only two runs in four appearances, he was assigned to the Ogden Raptors in the Pioneer League. Sven says that was the highlight of the season. “I had been in Arizona for two years already. I wanted to see some progression so moving to Odgen was a big thing for me.”
Schüller played 15 games, pitching 27.1 innings with an ERA of 4.28 for the Raptors. He made a good impression on his teammates in Ogden off the field as well. They gave him the nickname “The Robot”. “He is so robotic as he goes through his day. He runs just exactly like a robot, and pretty much everything he does is like a robot,” teammate Rob McDonnell told the Standard-Examine in Ogden. “But he’s a great guy in the clubhouse. He keeps everyone loose with his German jokes, and his German accent is fun to listen to.”
The Raptor’s season ended with a loss in the semi-finals against Orem Owlz. That released Schüller for play in the European Championship where he played for his homeland. He also represented Germany at the WBCQ Mexicali in March.
Following the European Championship Schüller was assigned to the Australian Baseball League (ABL) and placed on the Sydney Blue Sox roster. According to Martin Brunner Australia is exactly what Sven needed this winter. “A smaller volume of competitive pitching situations is the most beneficial environment for his development. That is exactly what the ABL and the Blue Sox offer him. Looking at the numbers he put up, 12 innings played, 15Ks, 4BB and a fast ball that topped out at 97mph should be a great confidence boost going into spring training.”
Adding innings over the winter helped further develop his body mechanics. Brunner explains, “Stefan Müller, who was his strength and conditioning coach in Regensburg Academy, designed a long-term individual program for Sven. It has made him one of the most athletic and strongest player in the entire Dodger organization. From my point of view Sven has the potential to be an MLB starting pitcher.”
In the immediate future Schüller’s 2017 goal is to earn a spot on a full-season roster. “It is up to the Dodgers. I haven’t heard anything from them yet so, everything is still open for the season,” he said.
Sven Schüller has already traveled quite a long way from a backyard in Germany to a regular slot with an MLB organization. To play in the bigs is his dream. He is ready to give everything he has to make it happen. “To be a professional athlete and reach the top, at any sport, you need to give it all you got,” Sven said. “You’ve got to be ready work hard every day. It is the only way.”