CLINTON, IA -- With his professional career as a catcher heading nowhere fast after a pair of lackluster seasons with Vermont and Stockton, Ryan Gorton faced his day of reckoning this spring when he learned there wasn’t a spot for him in the organization.
He was faced with the decision of either giving it a go as a minor-league free agent in another organization or pulling out the trump card in his arsenal, which was using his cannon throwing arm to try pitching.
Gorton liked his teammates, coaches and the A’s organization in general, so he chose the latter and stuck with the club that picked him in the 31st round of the 2012 draft out of Oregon State.
"Coming towards the end of spring training, they had their rosters set and I wasn’t really a part of that," said Gorton, who had slashed just .205/.290/.236 in 70 career professional games across two stops with Vermont in 2013 and Stockton this past season.
"They didn’t really have a spot for me anywhere. I didn’t really have a very good year at the plate last year at all so I get it. I was on the cusp of getting my release. If I would have asked for my release they would have given it to me so I could go play somewhere else."
Ryan Gorton 2015 Stats
Having caught many pitchers within the organization and facing several others with other franchises, Gorton always felt like he could fall back on pitching if being a backstop didn’t work out. This despite one forgettable pitching appearance in an extra-inning game with the Lake Monsters back in 2013, when he allowed one run on four hits in one inning of work.
"Being behind the plate the last two years, I had a seen all of the pitchers in the organization and felt like I could compete with some of those guys," Gorton said. "There are 12 or 13 pitchers on every staff and two catchers, so the spots are very limited back there.
"I felt like I had the stuff to get hitters out with, so I asked [Oakland Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman] if they would give me an opportunity to pitch and they decided to give me a shot."
Instead of leaving Mesa with the rest of his teammates in the spring, Gorton stayed in Arizona to work on developing as a pitcher at extended spring training. Nothing has been easy for Gorton in his two-plus years with the organization, so it was only fitting that he went down with a pectoral strain in first live appearance against hitters.
Gorton remained on the shelf for five weeks, before getting healthy enough to start throwing live bullpen sessions. He eventually appeared in six games with the AZL A’s and allowed just a pair of earned runs on six hits in 7.1 innings. Perhaps most importantly, he struck out nine batters and issued just one walk.
The 6’2” right-hander was summoned to Vermont for the first time since 2013 and responded well to the challenge. Gorton pitched in 12 innings across eight appearances with the Lake Monsters, allowing four earned runs on 10 hits while posting a 12:4 K:BB rate.
Another promotion awaited Gorton soon after in late-August, as he was sent out to Beloit to impact a Snappers bullpen that had lost stalwarts Carlos Navas and Jose Torres to Stockton in recent weeks.
Gorton made his debut on August 31st at Kane County, pitching a pair of scorless innings (although he did allow a pair of inherited runners to score) and giving up two hits. He was even more dominant Thursday night at Clinton, pitching two more scoreless innings and striking out five.
How has Gorton had so much success in relatively quick fashion? He’s not the average converted position player with just one or two pitches in his arsenal. Gorton has a starting pitcher’s arsenal with a fastball, cutter and slider. He even had the luxury of scrapping an ineffective fourth pitch, a change-up.
"I haven’t thrown it much at all this season," Gorton said. "I was closing at Vermont and coming in when the game’s on the line and I felt like the change-up is my fourth-best pitch and I didn’t want to get beat on that. Over the off-season and Instructs, I plan on getting better at throwing that change-up with confidence."
Having been a catcher for so many years, Gorton also has a firm understanding of how to get batters out consistently.
"I am trying to come in and pound the 'zone down," he said. "I want to fill up the 'zone as much as I can. I know as a hitter, when that guy comes at you constantly it’s like a full-court press in basketball. They’re in your grill and you have to learn how to deal with it. If you’re throwing a bunch of strikes down in the zone, you’re kind of forcing their hand a little bit."
If the 25-year old Gorton keeps retiring minor-league hitters in bunches, he could be put on the fast track through the organization starting in 2016.