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Rays righty Joe Ryan is on the rise

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“The man with the unhittable fastball”

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

For those that follow Rays prospects closely, the organization made a move many have been eager for: right-handed pitcher Joe Ryan was promoted to Double A.

Ryan is somewhat well known for an “invisible fastball” that leaves opposing hitters with little chance to make contact — and the Rays have been happy to have Ryan use the pitch frequently, having him throw the fastball about 75% of the time. He throws that low-90s fastball elevated in the zone, and opposing hitters just can’t touch it.

The results with Class A-Advanced Charlotte were incredible. Prior to his promotion to Double A, Ryan owned the second-highest strikeout percentage at either Class A level, striking out 37.2% of opposing hitters.

Ryan is also excellent at keeping opposing hitters off the bathpaths, yielding free passes to just 5.6% of opposing hitters. They’ve mustered a meager .173 batting average against him.

A relative unknown prior to the 2019 campaign, Ryan quickly began getting noticed in 2019 as pundits recognized his ability to rack up punchouts. Baseball America in particular has been raving about Ryan all summer, and in its midseason update, it placed him No. 18 in the vaunted Rays system.

He was praised by Baseball America as “the man with the unhittable fastball.” Ryan is a pitcher’s pitcher, as he can pick up new pitches with ease and puts them to use effortlessly. It’s just a matter of him developing those pitches to complement his fastball.

Thanks to a chance encounter with Hunter Wood — who was rehabbing with Charlotte — Ryan was able to learn how to throw a cutter. Wood and Ryan threw warmups with each other, leading to Wood showing Ryan his grip for the pitch. Ryan picked it up instantly and began using it in games, and since then it has aided the development of a slider. Just like that, he had a new pitch in his repertoire he was willing and able to use.

Anything Ryan can add to his ever growing arsenal will assist him, but his fastball could be one of the best in the minor leagues, despite its average velocity. As Charlotte’s pitching coach, Steve ‘Doc’ Watson, puts it,

“Several guys kept saying ‘I’ve not seen a fastball like that in my career. Even when we were playing Fort Myers, (Trevor) Larnach, who’s their best hitter, in my opinion, he made a comment … he said ‘Doc, I’m gonna tell you what, that arm is electric. It comes through and you do not see the baseball until it’s on top of you.’ so I’ll take it from them and just say that it is an electric arm.”

At 23 years old, Ryan was a bit old for the lower levels of the minor leagues, but now he is being tested by the more advanced stages of minor league baseball where fastballs can go to die.

Thus far, Ryan has made three starts with the Montgomery Biscuits. After a rough debut outing on Aug. 14, Ryan dominated on Aug. 20 when he struck out nine over 4 23 innings pitched. Ten days later, making his third start, Ryan was incredible has he racked up 11 strikeouts over 4 23 innings pitched, or 61.1% of the batters he faced.

As Ryan hones his skill, it may become necessary for him to develop his secondary pitches to complement that fastball, but as for right now, he seems to be doing just fine.