It’s that wonderful time—time for a prospect to make his MLB debut, one of my favorite things to watch, and tonight, it was Joe Ryan for the Minnesota Twins.
Watching an MLB debut is a blast because it’s really the first time we get to see these guys pitch under the spotlight. Sure, there are videos online of some of these guys, but seeing them on the big stage and getting to dissect their every pitch is a blast.
Coming into this game, the scouting report on Ryan is this—he’s a guy with a great fastball that clocks around the mid-90s at best but makes up for its velocity in movement and excellent command. Aside from that, Ryan is reported to have a handful of solid but unspectacular secondary stuff.
But so far, Ryan has impressed in the minors. In 2019, he pitched to a 1.96 ERA in 22 starts between low-A, high-A, and Double-A. And this year in Triple-A, he’s pitched to a 3.41 ERA in 13 starts.
Ryan was initially drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the seventh round of the 2018 MLB Draft and was moved to the Twins as part of the Nelson Cruz trade.
Now, the Twins are giving Ryan his first shot at the majors, so let’s take a look at how he did.
Ryan’s first major league inning honestly couldn’t have started out any better. His first batter was Rafael Ortega, and as I always do with these breakdowns, let’s take a look at Ryan’s first-ever major league pitch:
Unsurprisingly, it’s a fastball, but it was fouled away, so we didn’t get the best look at it. Ryan threw another fastball that ended up as a fly ball out.
But the first pitch of the next at-bat to Frank Schwindel gave us a much better look at Ryan’s fastball, since it was taken for a strike:
I can see the good movement the scouting report referenced on Ryan’s fastball. While it’s not super fast, the movement on it is pretty nice. Nothing earth-shattering, but good enough that I think it could play if controlled well.
After Schwindel fouled off another fastball, we got to see a quick look at Ryan’s slider:
Unfortunately, it was a really poorly-located slider, though luckily for Ryan it ended up as a fly out (and had it been a little more in the strike zone, probably would’ve ended up in the seats), but hey, there’s his slider!
And don’t worry, we get a better look at it later.
Next up was Ian Happ, and I think you can guess how Ryan started him out. Yep, with a fastball, which was fouled off. And then another fastball, but this time as a swinging strike.
And then on an 0-2 count, we get:
Another fastball! But hey, this one worked out pretty well! It was up and away, Happ swung and missed at it, and Joe Ryan gets his first major league strikeout and gets out of his first inning in the majors.
First up in the second inning was Patrick Wisdom, and you want to guess how he started the at-bat? If you guessed fastball, you’d be right! It was a fastball up and away that was a ball, followed by a fastball up and in for another ball and then a fastball away for … another ball.
On a 3-0 count, Ryan comes in with another fastball in and gets extremely lucky with a strike call.
Then, another fastball later, Wisdom is looking at a full count until this:
Wisdom ends up a strikeout victim after getting a 3-0 count to start and he was not happy about the outcome.
Considering the fourth pitch of the at bat was a bad call by the umpire, I can see why.
Next up was Jason Heyward and after working to an 0-2 count following three fastballs (one of which was fouled off), Ryan got a little fielding action himself on a slider that was grounded back to him.
And hey, well done Joe Ryan on fielding your position.
Austin Romine was the next up and he had almost the same at-bat as Heyward, seeing three fastballs working to a 1-2 count before grounding out on a slider out of the zone.
Two innings down.
First up in the third was Alfonso Rivas who starts his at-bat off with a fastball way outside for a ball. But the second pitch of his at-bat was something I want to mention:
This is what Ryan’s fastball can be if he commands it well. Right on the outside upper corner, a good bit of movement, called strike. That’s a nice pitch.
And yes, the pitch happened during an interview (of Ryan’s mom). Could I have switched to a different broadcast? Sure. Did I? No. Why? I’m lazy.
Either way, nice pitch.
The next pitch to Rivas was a changeup, the first one of the night!
And it was way off! Oh well (don’t worry, we get nicer changeups later).
Ultimately, Rivas worked a walk out of Ryan, and next up was Sergio Alcantara, who gets a fastball up and in for a called strike, and then a curveball, another first of the night!
Unfortunately it was low for a ball, but it’s a decent looking curveball!
Alcantara gets two more balls before swinging at a fastball away for strike two and then gets a fastball away:
Strike three on a nice fastball!
Andrew Romine was next up and worked his way to a 3-1 count before Ryan made his first big mistake of the night:
A low-middle fastball that Romine had no problem slamming into right field and almost putting out of the yard. Instead, Romine gets a double and Ryan has a man at second and third.
Then we’ve got Rafael Ortega who comes up and works a 2-1 count before getting to 2-2 because, again, the umpire decided to give Ryan a gift.
Ultimately, Ortega hit a fly ball to center for an out shallow enough that Rivas isn’t able to come in home.
Then we’ve got Frank Schwindel up, and we get a look at how pretty Ryan’s slider can be:
A nice bit of break off the plate that fools Schwindel for strike one, nicely done.
But after one more slider that ends up a ball, this happens:
An up-and-in fastball gets launched out of the park for a three-run home run. Honestly, not a terrible pitch from Ryan, it wasn’t like it was down the middle or anything, Schwindel just took a solid up-and-in fastball and cranked it, good on him.
But the bases clear and Ian Happ comes up. He works to a 1-2 count before getting a high fastball he can turn on:
Which then prompts a mound visit, understandably. Ryan’s throwing a lot of hittable fastballs, and if you’re just going to throw a fastball over and over again, I don’t really care how much it moves, major league hitters are going to sit on it and start to crush it.
I think that might be what was talked about during the mound visit, because the first pitch to Patrick Wisdom was a slider, followed by two fastballs, and then this slider that fools Wisdom:
Wisdom gets another slider for a ball before flying out on a fastball to end the inning, and Ryan is out of his longest inning yet.
Alright, you’re a rookie pitcher, you just had a really rough inning in your MLB debut, giving up a home run. It would be understandable if this was the beginning of a downward spiral that ultimately ends your game. But not in Joe Ryan’s case.
Ryan gets Jason Heyward to start the inning and we get a yikes of a curveball:
Totally lost the release point on that. But that’s okay, because Ryan composes himself, gets a really close fastball in that gets called a ball, and then starts battling with Heyward. Eight pitches later, Heyward flies out.
Next up, Austin Romine who gets this very pretty slider to start his at-bat:
And Ryan figures, hey, why not throw that pitch a couple more times? ANd it worked, because two pitches later, Romine flies out on a low slider. Two away.
Next we get Alfonso Rivas, and I’m going to give you each pitch of this at-bat (don’t worry, it wasn’t a long one).
Pitch one: a fastball up and away:
Only 88 MPH but beautifully-located for a strike.
Pitch two: a low changeup:
That’s a solid changeup and good location for it too. Strike two.
Pitch three: another changeup:
Whiff, strike three, see you later.
Want to know what I liked about that at-bat? Not a single fastball thrown.
No doubt Ryan likes his fastball and certainly relies on it a lot. But that was getting predictable and he was getting hit. So here, what does he do? He throws a slider and two changeups and gets a three-pitch strikeout. Well done, way to adjust.
I’ll be honest, after the third inning, I didn’t expect Ryan to make it much further, but kudos to him for battling back and making it into the fifth inning.
The inning started out with Sergio Alcantara who got a fastball for a ball before getting this changeup:
Once again a nice changeup and solid location from Ryan (though maybe a little lower would’ve been better). I like that he’s using that changeup more, he needs to use it to offset his fastball.
Alcantara eventually worked it to a 1-2 count, fouling off a few pitches before we get this:
A pretty nice curveball that totally fools him and gets him to strikeout on a check swing, well done.
Next up was Andrew Romine, and I guess Ryan figured, “Hey, it worked with Alcantara, let’s do it again.”
Because there’s another curveball away for a called strike. Now, it looks like Romine was planning on bunting and then gave up, so he didn’t even really offer at the pitch, but it worked out for Ryan pretty well.
After Romine fouled off a changeup, he gets another nice curveball:
Romine explodes his bat and hits a groundout. Again, what I like about that at-bat, Ryan isn’t afraid to use his secondary stuff. He throws a curveball, a changeup, and another curveball and gets the out.
And frankly, Romine was completely fooled by that last curveball, he’s lucky he made contact. If he hadn’t, that would’ve been Ryan’s prettiest strikeout of the night.
Ortega came up next and worked to a 2-2 count with a bunch of foul balls before ultimately flying out.
Ryan was replaced after the fifth, and that was the end of his MLB debut.
Ryan’s final line: 5 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
There’s certainly reason to like what Ryan’s got. The fastball is nice, the secondary pieces show promise, but there’s plenty of reason to be very wary of him.
First off, the command just wasn’t consistent enough, and if he’s going to throw a low-90s/high-80s fastball, I don’t care how much movement it has, he better locate it really well or it’s going to get annihilated by major league hitters.
There were moments where he did that, and that’s awesome. But there were plenty of moments where he didn’t, which is concerning.
On top of that, he relied on that fastball way too much. If he was pumping 98-100 MPH or something with some kind of filthy fastball and just had okay secondary stuff, that’s workable. Not great, but workable if he wants to heavily rely on the fastball.
But that’s not what Ryan has. He needs to rely on that secondary stuff, and while the secondary stuff certainly has some potential, right now it’s not better than MLB average.
So all in all, Ryan has a solid fastball and three decent secondary pitches, all with fairly inconsistent command.
He worked out well in this game, but it’s also important to remember the Cubs are not exactly setting the world on fire from an offensive perspective. I think the scariest hitter Ryan faced all night was Patrick Wisdom.
For fantasy purposes, I’m not touching Ryan at all. I’ve got to see either the secondary stuff get a lot better or the fastball command get a lot better. Against a good offense, I think Ryan’s going to get lit up if he pitches like he did tonight.
Still, there’s potential there, and he’s worth keeping an eye on.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)