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 Prospect Ryan catching up in Winter ball

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PostSubject: Prospect Ryan catching up in Winter ball   Wed Nov 12, 2008 11:09 pm

11/12/08 5:59 PM EST
Prospect Ryan catching up
Continued work could make backstop ready for Majors

By Jason Beck / MLB.com

The Tigers spent the final weeks of the season learning a bit about Dusty Ryan, who made enough of an impression to fit into next year's catching picture. Now, the burly young backstop has a chance to give that picture some more clarity.

With the start of play in the revived Puerto Rican Winter League, the next phase of Ryan's development has begun. Whether it leads him back to Detroit next year depends a lot on what the Tigers do over the winter, but also a little on what Ryan does in the spring.

The Tigers believe a couple extra months of play can go a long way towards getting him ready.

"Just continued improvement is what it amounts to," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He was really in Double-A most of the year. That's why we think he's going to continue to improve. That's why many, many players play winter ball."

Particularly this year, the Tigers have a lot of players taking that route. Brent Clevlen has played in 16 games already for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican League, where Ramon Santiago is manning shortstop for Gigantes del Cibao. Matt Joyce began playing in Mexicali for the Aguilas of the Mexican League at the end of October.

All of those players have seen more Major League time than Ryan, who made his big league debut in September after a short stint at Triple-A Toledo. His time in Detroit showed off his right-handed power bat and strong arm, but also reflected where he needed more seasoning, such as blocking pitches in the dirt.

The Tigers didn't expect Ryan to be a Major League-ready product last season. His playing time was expected to be scattered at best when he arrived at the start of September, with Brandon Inge catching regularly. Now, Inge is a third baseman again, and Detroit's catching position is wide open.

Toward filling that void, the Tigers are hoping that winter ball helps smooth out some of the rough edges in Ryan's game.

Ryan had caught in each of the season's first three games through Tuesday for Leones de Ponce, going 2-for-12 with a run scored, an RBI, three walks and five strikeouts. Behind the plate, he has caught a Ponce pitching staff that had the league's only shutout so far but gave up 17 runs over the other two of its first three games.

The pitching staff with which Ryan is working ranges from experienced arms such as Hector Mercado and Pedro Feliciano to prospects in their early 20s, such as fellow Tigers farmhand Joshua Rainwater.

Tigers player development director Glenn Ezell has seen Ryan's development through the organization since he was a 48th-round selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. Ezell's message to Ryan this year has been positive, helping him to not take any offensive struggles into the field. That mind-set continues into the winter.

"The consistency is exactly what he's got to find," Ezell said. "He's got to continue to hit the fastball. he's got to play nine innings behind the plate, receive the ball and get the experience of seeing the breaking balls down there."

Defensively, Ezell sees promise in Ryan. He knows the challenge Ryan faced blocking pitches in the big leagues down the stretch but sees experience as key. The tools, Ezell said, are there.

"He's got the skills to do that," Ezell said. "He has the technique to do it. I think he's going to do it. I think he has to realize that he can. I think he can. I think the Major League coaches believe he can. I think a lot of us think he can. He just has to go out and get it done. And again, it's mind over matter."

Ryan will have the rest of the season in Puerto Rico to give it a shot. The league schedule runs through December. It likely won't have any effect on how the Tigers approach the catching market this winter, but it could still have a big bearing on Ryan's fortunes for 2009.

While Ryan's season is picking back up, the Arizona Fall League heads towards its final days with Jeff Larish still confounding league pitching. Now, he has company among the Tigers' prospects on the hitting leaderboards.

After a slow start in October, Larish's hit parade is carrying all the way into the final days of the AFL's regular season. He continues to lead the league with 27 RBIs, while moving up to third in two other categories with nine doubles and 26 runs scored. His hitting streak now stretches into double digits, and he entered Wednesday batting .405 (17-for-42) with five doubles, four home runs, 15 RBIs and 13 runs scored over his last 10 games.

Outfielder Casper Wells can't match that prolonged stretch, but he has heated up since returning last Saturday from a hip flexor injury that had kept him out of action for more than week. Wells went 5-for-10 with three doubles and two homers over his first three games back, including a pinch-hit three-run shot Tuesday.

Wells was already picking up his hitting before the injury, going 6-for-13 (.462) with five RBIs in three games leading into it. Add in his walks for a .462 season on-base percentage, and his 1.077 OPS ranked 10th in the league entering Wednesday. It's another step in the development of a 23-year-old Grand Rapids, Mich., native who jumped from low Class A West Michigan to Erie in midseason.

"Is he going to hit for average? I don't know," Ezell said. "But I know he's going to give himself a chance to."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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