Name: Ryan Doolittle
Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 205
How Acquired: 26th round pick, 2008 (Cumberland County CC)
Ryan Doolittle’s journey through the minor leagues has been filled with speed bumps. Drafted in 2008, Doolittle has seen injuries cost him some or all of five of his six-and-a-half minor league seasons. The 2014 campaign represented his first full season without a major injury or rehab from an injury and showed what he is capable of accomplishing when healthy. Another healthy season in 2015 could be all it takes for Doolittle to reach the big leagues.
"He pitches a lot like his brother. He’s aggressive and he’s going to come right at you." - Scott Emerson, Oakland A's bullpen coach
Doolittle began his career as a starter, but after missing the entire 2009 season with a forearm strain, Doolittle moved to the bullpen and has pitched in that role ever since. He threw 40.1 innings in 2010, but was limited to 25.1 innings in 2011 and 34 innings in 2012. Midway through the 2012 season, Doolittle had Tommy John surgery. He returned to throw a handful of innings at the tail-end of the 2013 campaign.
In 2014, Doolittle threw a career-high 57.1 innings between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. The bulk of those innings (47.1) came at the Double-A level. It was the first time Doolittle had pitched above the A-ball level, and he acquitted himself well. In those 47.1 innings with the RockHounds, Doolittle had a 3.23 ERA. He struck-out 47, walked 19 and allowed four homeruns. Before joining the RockHounds, Doolittle threw 10 innings for Stockton, allowing just two runs and posting a 13:2 K:BB.
Eligible for minor league free agency at the end of the 2014 season, Doolittle re-signed with the A’s for 2015. Oakland then sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where Doolittle continued to open eyes with an outstanding stint in the prospect showcase. During the fall, Doolittle added another 13 innings to his career-high total. In a league that often favors the hitters, Doolittle was dominant. He allowed just 10 hits, two earned runs and no walks and he struck-out 11. His fastball averaged 92.3 MPH during the fall and topped out at a shade under 95, showing that he was still strong despite the long season.
Throughout his career, Doolittle has been effective when healthy, in large part because of his excellent command. In 220.1 career innings, Doolittle has walked just 41 batters while striking out 217. He has also allowed just 16 homeruns.
Although Doolittle’s command is his best tool as a pitcher, he isn’t a soft-tosser by any means. His fastball sits in the 91-93 MPH range and can touch 95. His four-seamer is a little straight, so he can get into trouble if he leaves it over the plate. His two-seamer gets good sinking action, which helps him generate a lot of groundballs.
Doolittle also features a hard breaking ball and a solid change-up. The breaking ball, which former A’s minor league pitching coordinator (and current big league bullpen coach) Scott Emerson described as a “cutter-slash-slider”, has improved a lot in the two years since Doolittle had Tommy John surgery and is a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch for him. He isn’t afraid to challenge hitters and he works quickly, which helps his defense stay alert behind him.
“He pitches a lot like his brother [A’s closer Sean Doolittle],” Emerson said. “He’s aggressive and he’s going to come right at you.”
Originally a catcher before moving to the mound in college, Doolittle has been called “the athlete of the family” by older brother Sean. Ryan is able to repeat his delivery and he fields his position well. Doolittle had a 48% groundball rate in 2014 and has a career mark of 47.6%. His walk rate in Midland was a little high, but nearly all of those walks came in a brief rough stretch in July. The rest of the season and into the AFL campaign, Doolittle was his typically stingy self when it came to walks.
Doolittle could have tested the free agent market, but he chose to re-sign with the A’s for the 2015 season. He should get his first opportunity at the Triple-A level at some point in 2015 and, if a few breaks go his way, could join his brother in the big leagues next season.