Tough rookie Hanigan impressing Reds
Backstop drawing praise for his hitting and work with pitchers
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- A couple of weeks ago, manager Dusty Baker referred to rookie Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan as a "little down-and-dirty dude" to praise his toughness and ability on defense.
What remains unknown is the direction of Hanigan's future. Is he an everyday playing dude or a backup dude? Does he have a future at all in Cincinnati? Having just turned 28, he is older than most rookies and the window to show he's legit might be small.
"I feel like I've had a solid start," said Hanigan, who was recalled from Triple-A Louisville on Aug. 10. "I have high expectations for myself, and I'm not completely happy with my play as a whole. At this point, I've been able to settle in and relax. That's the biggest thing."
The adjustment for rookie catchers to the big leagues can be tougher than for players at other positions. There's the figuring out how to work with their pitchers and learning opposing hitters and how they should be pitched. On top of that is keeping his own defensive and offensive skills sharp.
It sometimes requires asking a lot of questions, which Hanigan hasn't been afraid to do.
"You look at the games that he catches and the scores are relatively low most of the time," Baker said. "He gives a good target. He's in there talking to who's pitching between innings. He's talking to [pitching coach] Dick Pole or he's talking to [catcher Paul] Bako trying to learn the hitters in this league. He's a quick learner. He takes pride in his catching."
After batting .324 in 75 games with Louisville, Hanigan is batting .276 (8-for-29) with two home runs and eight RBIs in 11 games for the Reds.
Hanigan's reputation only improved earlier this month when he was named the International League's best defensive catcher by Baseball America. The league also named him a postseason All-Star. The recognition was positive, but it was helping pitchers' performance that he viewed as his highest priority.
"I'm out here for these pitchers," Hanigan said. "It's the biggest part of the game. You have to block balls, throw guys out and do all the things as a catcher. I'm always working on it."
Said Bako: "Some guys come up and just worry if they're 2-for-4, 1-for-3 or 0-for-4. It looks he was brought up the right way. A catcher's job is to get the pitcher through the game. Everything else is a close second."
An undrafted player, Hanigan's path to the Majors has already been one that is less traveled. While a large portion of today's ballplayers hail from warm weather climates like Arizona, Florida or Texas, Hanigan grew up in Andover, Mass. He passed up a chance to attend Boston College to head south and play for Division II Rollins College in Florida.
Despite its sunny surroundings, Rollins isn't known churning out Major Leaguers -- Clay Bellinger and John Castino are not exactly superstar alums. After his junior season, Hanigan was bypassed by every club over all 50 rounds of the 2002 Draft.
"I don't think there were too many scouts there," Hanigan said of his time at Rollins. "I wanted to go south so I could be outside all year. It worked out better for me. I was real serious. It was a great decision for me. There's really good baseball down there, I thought."
It took participating in the Cape Cod League, a collegiate summer league that uses wooden bats, for Hanigan to get noticed by the scouts. He played with and against several Division I college players and didn't have trouble keeping up.
"I had a real good summer," Hanigan said. "I was an All-Star and played well. I started to get a bunch of offers from different organizations. The Reds made a real good one, and I ended up taking it. As a senior, I probably would have gotten drafted. I had a lot of scouts talking to me."
Although older, Hanigan made a typically deliberate climb up the Reds' farm system. It took five seasons before he reached the Major Leagues for the first time last year as a September callup.
The sample size wasn't tremendous -- all of five games and 10 at-bats. But when Hanigan went back to Triple-A to start this season, he was the Bats' regular catcher for the first time. His hitting improved and his abilities behind the plate got sharper.
"Last year was my first taste. I was at first trying to take it all in, and after that, learn what I could," Hanigan said. "This year is still an adjustment right off the bat. I just told myself to make the adjustment as quickly as possible and try to relax. After a week or two, I'm starting to relax and play my game."
This time around, the circumstances are different and the stakes are higher.
"He's got some tenacity, some hunger," Bako said. "I like the way he goes about his business. It's going to be up to him from here on out to go out there and perform, execute and show the Reds and the league what he can do."