Prospect Retro: Brendan Ryan
Per reader request, here is a look at the career development path of St. Louis Cardinals infielder Brendan Ryan.
Brendan Ryan was drafted by the Cardinals in the seventh round of the 2003 draft, out of Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho. LCS is a very fine baseball school, and scouts liked Ryan's athleticism and contact hitting ability. He hit .311/.363/.425 in 53 games for New Jersey in the New York-Penn League after signing, also stealing 11 bases in 14 attempts. The main doubt for him was lack of power. In the 2004 book, I gave him a Grade C and wrote "we need to see how much pop he shows at higher levels, but intuitively, I have a good feeling about him."
Moved up to Peoria in the Midwest League for 2004, Ryan hit .322/.356/.404, winning the Midwest League batting title. He also stole 30 bases in 37 attempts, but didn't show a lot of power with just two homers and 21 doubles. He didn't draw many walks, just 24, but he also fanned just 42 times. Defensively, he got positive reviews for his throwing arm and range, but was criticized for problems on routine plays and made 31 errors. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2005 book.
Ryan began 2005 with Palm Beach in the Florida State League, hitting .303/.355/.410 in 49 games. Promoted to Double-A Springfield, he hit .273/.343/.377 in 43 games. He missed time during the season with a pulled hamstring, but showed fine speed when he did play, stealing 14 bases in 15 attempts. Post-season reports indicated that Ryan had a fine line drive contact bat, good speed and athleticism, but lacked distance power, was sometimes impatient, and remained error-prone on routine plays. I gave him a Grade C, but cut him from the final version of the '06 book for space reasons.
Injuries struck hard in 2006: he was limited to just 28 games split between four levels, hitting a combined .265/.302/.308. The main problem was a painful, slow-healing ligament in his left wrist. Despite the infirmity and weak hitting performance, the Cardinals put him on their 40-man roster, afraid he would be selected in the Rule 5 draft. I restored him to the book in 2007 since he was on the roster, rating him as a Grade C and projecting him as a future utility infielder. I didn't think he would get beyond that, concerned about the lack of pop and continued problems with defensive reliability.
Restored to full health in '07, Ryan hit .272/.328/.341 in 81 games for Triple-A Memphis, then .289/.347/.406 in 67 games for the Cardinals, swiping seven bases and posting a 15/19 BB/K in 180 at-bats. He hit just .244/.307/.289 in 2008, but in 2009 he broke out with a more impressive .292/.340/.400 season, stealing 14 bases. He is off to a much slower start in 2010, hitting just .167/.256/.222 so far in semi-regular playing time.
Ryan is a career .265/.324/.354 hitter, with an OPS+ of 79 in 875 at-bats so far in his career. This is exactly what you would expect given his minor league hitting record. I think 2009 was his career season, and hopes that he could end up as a consistent regular at that level of hitting seem misplaced to me. What we are seeing this year is likely a correction. On the positive side, his defense has turned out to be pretty solid, with fewer errors now than he made in the minors. His speed has some value, but overall I stand by my original assessment of Ryan as a utility player.
That's still more than you get from most seventh round picks.