Sports

Will Ryan catch on? Tigers catcher enters Spring Training fighting for spot on roster

Three months after the end of the Major League Baseball season, Dusty Ryan said he's still on cloud nine. It's not tough to understand why.

The former Merced College and Golden Valley standout and current Tigers prospect had a 2008 run that most ballplayers only ever dream about.

After clubbing 15 home runs and driving in 50 RBI at Double-A Erie, Ryan was promoted to Triple-A Toledo following the Tigers' trade of catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

His stay in Toledo was brief.

Ryan hit .315 with two home runs and 13 RBI in just 20 games at the Triple-A level before receiving a September call-up to the Tigers.

It was an opportunity Ryan didn't waste.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound catcher hit .318 with a couple home runs and seven RBI in his 15-game audition.

"The whole experience was incredible," Ryan said. "It really opened my eyes to what I could have in 10 years.

"Just that little taste makes it the much easier to go out to the field and work out during the winter."

Even the Tigers' signing of veteran catchers Gerald Laird and Matt Treanor this offseason hasn't dampened Ryan's spirits.

"I was talking to my agent and we kind of figured the Tigers would do that," Ryan said. "Coaches like catchers with experience in handling big-league pitchers.

"I'm young and they only got to see 15 games from me, so it makes sense.

"Still, I think I showed the organization what I'm capable of."

Ryan's defensive prowess has been evident since his days on the Merced College diamond.

Built with a huge frame to block pitches and a cannon for an arm, Ryan's catching ability always projected well.

As for his offense, well, that was a different story.

"When I was drafted they told me I was MLB ready defensively," Ryan said. "I put in a lot of work the last couple years to improve my hitting."

Ryan saw that work pay dividends in 2008. In 117 games, spread across three levels, Ryan hit .271 with 19 home runs and 70 RBI.

Blue Devil baseball coach Chris Pedretti said that Ryan would eventually tap into his offensive potential.

"So much of it, I think, was just getting the physical strength to go with that big frame," Pedretti said. "It takes a lot to get those big limbs in the right place.

"He's such a physical specimen, the potential is there for him to be a great all-around ballplayer."

Ironically, Ryan's 15-game call-up made him shift his offseason training regiment back to a defensive approach.

"I realized that my offense might get me a big contract someday, but my defense is what's going to get me to the big leagues," Ryan said. "I had knee surgery last offseason and I felt like my footwork has been a little slow since then. I've put in a lot of time this winter on getting that back up to speed."

Ryan hopes his all-around game will be enough to catch the Tigers' eye this spring.

"If I start out the year in Triple-A, I know it's just because the organization wants me to gain experience and get some playing time," Ryan said. "My approach going into spring training is that I'm one of three guys fighting for two catcher spots on the Tigers' roster.

"I think I can win one of those spots and I'm going to do everything I can to make it happen."

Ryan File

POSITION: Catcher

BATS: Right

THROWS: Right

YEARS PRO: 4

ORGANIZATION: Detroit Tigers

DRAFTED: Selected in the 48th round by the Detroit Tigers in 2003.

LAST YEAR: Got a September callup by the Tigers after hitting .266 with 17 home runs and 63 RBI in Double- and Triple-A. Hit .318 in 15 MLB games.

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