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Dan Savas pitches for the Hillsboro Hops against the Vancouver Canadians during Northwest League action. | Craig Mitchelldyer

When Dan Savas found out he would need Tommy John surgery after a promising freshman season at Illinois State, he took it as a mental challenge.

“The thought that I would never perform at [the professional] level definitely went through my head,” said Savas, a 2010 Leyden graduate. “I tried to keep the thought as far back in my head as possible and just focus on getting healthy and getting back. At first I had no idea what to expect. I was pretty terrified.”

After some extensive research on the surgery and support from his coaching staff, Savas started feeling better about his comeback prospects.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder returned to the mound a year later as a redshirt sophomore and put together a sparkling record of 10-0 with an impressive 1.79 ERA. 

Somehow he was overlooked in the MLB first-year player draft, but he saw it as another test of his determination.

“It definitely was disappointing,” Savas said. “What I took the most from that was to keep working hard.”

He hooked up with the Cape Cod League during the summer and attracted the attention of pro scouts.

Savas followed by going 8-5 with a 2.10 ERA for ISU his junior season and once again anxiously waited for his name to be called during the June draft. The Arizona Diamondbacks pulled the trigger in the 19th round.

“I was paying attention to [the draft] because I knew there was a good chance I’d get drafted,” said Savas, who will turn 22 on Friday. “Right when I saw my name come up I got four or five text messages and everything just started happening so fast. 

“It was a pretty unreal feeling. I couldn’t be happier. Since I was very little I thought about playing pro ball and it’s unbelievable that I’m doing that now.”

Savas, who lived in Arizona for 2 1/2 years before arriving at Leyden before the baseball season his junior year, signed with the Diamondbacks four days later.

“I was pretty set on signing this year,” said Savas, who had another year of eligibility. “I had one day and then flew out to Arizona and had a doctor’s appointment and signed real quick.

Right-hander Dan Savas went 18-5 his last two years with Illinois State. | ISU

Savas was one of six Redbirds selected, a program record. Bo Durkac, who was named head coach at ISU on June 16, predicts success for the right-hander.

“He was one of the best pitchers in the Missouri Valley Conference,” Durkac, formerly the Redbirds’ associate head coach, said. “With all the physical attributes he has, from being 6-5 with loose-arm action, and having a slider that is really good, he will do well.

“He’s never going to be a guy who throws 97 [mph], but when he gets older and stronger he’ll throw in the low 90s and his ability to pitch will allow him to have success. A lot of guys enter the program with a rocket of a fastball, but they don’t know how to locate. He can locate with his fastball on both sides of the plate. He can get the big strikeout when he needs it and keep the damage to a minimum, even without his best stuff. That’s the mark of a high-end pitcher.”

Savas was assigned to the Hillsboro (Oregon) Hops in the Class A short season Northwest League. He earned the victory in his debut, pitching three innings in relief. In his first four appearances, he’s 1-0 with 15 strikeouts and six walks in 10 2/3 innings.

“That was a pretty good way to start off my career,” Savas said of the win. “I’m going to keep working hard to prove myself in the organization and prove that I should be here.”

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