When the Twins take on the Cubs on Wednesday night against the Cubs, we will be able to watch the major-league debut of Joe Ryan. Darren Wolfson reports that Ryan is being promoted tomorrow, with rosters expanding on September 1st, and the expectation is that he'll take the hill at Target Field in Kenta Maeda's place on Wednesday.
It's been a pretty crazy travel schedule for the former Rays prospect the past two months. In late June, he headed to the Olympics in Tokyo. Upon his return to the States, he went to North Carolina to pack up and move to the Twin Cities. He has spent the past couple of weeks with the Saints, making starts at CHS Field, and in Toledo. He was in Columbus, Ohio, when he learned that he got The Call. And now he will be back in Minneapolis, excited for his debut.
Joe Ryan is a fastball pitcher. He throws, literally, at least 70% fastballs. But it’s not because he has huge velocity; his fastball sits between 90 and 93 mph. Like another Twins pitcher, it has proved more effective than the radar gun readings.
Bailey Ober sits 91-93 mph with his fastball, his length allows him to release the ball closer to home plate. In essence, he can make 91 look like 94 just because of that release point.
Joe Ryan is only 6-2, but he still has some deception in his delivery. He throws from a lower release point. While the average pitcher’s release point is 5.9 feet, Ryan’s average release point is just 4.8 feet from the ground. Not one starting pitcher in the big leagues throws from that low. He also gets Ober-like extension in front of the mound. It’s something that he credits his water polo background with helping him. He told Verducci in a Sports Illustrated article:
Here's a breakdown of Joe Ryan by Twins Daily's own Nash Walker:
“"In water polo you learn how to skip the ball,” he says. “I spent 10 years trying to skip the ball in water polo, and it’s the same concept as throwing a fastball: Get the shoulder in position and then let the hand work and get it out front. Throwing a baseball feels the same way. You get that zip right at the end.”
He has always had supreme confidence in his fastball, even though he doesn’t throw it real hard. He has a swagger. He believes that his movement and location will make it difficult for the hitter to square up. When he gets ahead, he - again like Ober - can get a lot of swings-and-missed up in or just above the strike zone. In fact, in his two starts with the Saints, he struck out 17 batters in just nine innings.
In 2019, Ryan was pitching in High-A Charlotte. His pitching coach was Doc Watson. In a 2019 Baseball America article, he shared a story about facing then-Miracle outfielder Trevor Larnach, who was the Florida State League MVP that season:
“Several guys kept saying ‘I’ve not seen a fastball like that in my career, “High Class A Charlotte pitching coach Doc Watson said. “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.””
But Ryan has also shown a solid slider. In his two starts since joining the Saints, he has been able to locate it at the knees and near the outside corner very consistently. It will obviously be an important second pitch for him to keep hitters off balance. Even within that, he throws a couple different sliders. Sometimes it acts like a cutter, and just moves enough to stay off a barrel. Other times, he’ll throw the slider with a bigger break. He will also throw a slower, more 12-to-6 curveball.
Joe Ryan turned 25 years old in June, and he sits on the precipice of a lifelong dream and goal, the big leagues. It’s been a somewhat unusual path to get here, and to land with the Twins.
Joe Ryan grew up in Northern California, miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. He led a unique early life. From a Tom Verducci article in Sports Illustrated, Ryan “grew up without travel ball, video games or cable while living an old-fashioned Tom Sawyer life in the shadow of Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods in Marin County, California”
His father, Kurtis, was “an extreme athlete and runner.” The family didn’t have cable TV. He didn’t play video games until middle school. At age 8, he entered a 7.2 mile cross-country race with his dad. He and his dad went into the mountains to camp, fish and hunt. He played water polo competitively, even during the baseball season.
He attended Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California. As a senior, he went 12-1 with a 0.76 ERA. He was drafted in the 39th round by his hometown San Francisco Giants.
Instead of signing, Ryan headed to Los Angeles to attend Cal State - Northridge. As a freshman, he pitched in 13 games (9 out of the bullpen) and posted a 1.48 ERA in 30 1/3 innings. As a sophomore, seven of his 11 appearances were starts. He went 1-2 with a 3.35 ERA in 40 1/3 innings. As a junior in 2017, he posted a 12.79 ERA in just 6 1/3 innings due to lat injury.
At the end of that season, he decided to transfer. If he had gone to another Division I school, he would have had to sit out a year. The Twins and other teams tried to sign him as a non-drafted free agent that summer. Instead, he headed back to northern California and went to Division II Cal State - Stanislaus. It proved to be a great decision for him. In 14 starts - and with health - Ryan went 8-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 98 1/3 innings. He had 127 strikeouts with just 13 walks.
In June of 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays selected him with their seventh-round draft pick. Because he had received a medical redshirt that junior season, he had some leverage and signed for just shy of $150,000, about $60,000 under slot value.
He spent that summer in the New York-Penn League, but in 2019 he raced through three levels of the minors, making it to AA. He also led the entire minor leagues in strikeouts (183) in just 123 2/3 innings, while walking only 27 batters.
He didn’t pitch officially in 2020 due to the pandemic, but he did work out at the Rays alternate site and continued to progress under the Rays’ strong pitcher development program.
He began the 2021 season at Triple-A Durham. He pitched in 12 games (11 starts) and went 4-3 with a 3.63 ERA. In 57 innings, he walked just ten and struck out 75 batters.
He then was named to the Team USA Olympic team and had a fantastic run. He started the team’s first game in the tournament. He then was the starting pitcher against Korea in the semi-finals, a win that put USA into the Gold Medal game. The team won the silver medal, but Ryan really impressed.
While in Japan, he learned that he had been traded (along with RHP Drew Strotman) and has made two starts for the St. Paul Saints. In the first start, he struck out the first six batters he faced and nine batters over four innings of work.
In his second start, last Thursday, he struck out nine batters in five innings. In his two starts, he only gave up five hits and two runs over nine innings, to go with seventeen strikeouts. Turns out that was enough to prove to the Twins brass that it was time to call him up.
On Wednesday, Joe Ryan will make his long-anticipated Twins debut (long-awaited in this case being since the July 31st trade) at Target Field against the Chicago Cubs. It's always fun to watch an MLB debut, but Twins fans should be excited about seeing Ryan for the season's final month.