Ryan Webb: Ahead Of The Learning Curve

When the Oakland A's drafted five high school pitchers in the first seven rounds of the 2005 draft, many experts were surprised. The A's have developed a reputation for shying away from high school pitchers, in part because they viewed them as higher risks. However, the A's did draft Ryan Webb out of high school in the 4th round last season and it is perhaps his early success that made the A's more willing to draft high schoolers. We recently had a chance to chat with Webb about his progress.

In a lot of ways, Ryan Webb is not a typical Billy Beane draft pick. Going into last year's draft, he was a high school pitcher who had committed to a solid collegiate program and wasn't necessarily going to be an easy sign. Webb himself was surprised when he got the phone call last June from the A's that they had drafted him.

"I was definitely surprised. I had talked to about 20 teams or so and the A's weren't one of them. I remember saying hi to their scout but I didn't even know he was with the A's [until after he was drafted]," Webb said.

The tall (6'6'') right-hander had committed to play for Wake Forest University and had been leaning towards by-passing the pros and going to college until right before the draft.

"I had signed with Wake Forest in part because they had a terrific baseball coach who had a great reputation. I also wanted to go there because it was a strong academic school and I felt like if I went to college, it would be to get a degree and not to concentrate solely on baseball," Webb said.

"However, the coach of Wake Forest resigned three days before the draft, so it made the decision to go pro a lot easier."

In the past, the A's have shied away from spending high draft picks on high school pitchers because it is harder to gauge their maturity and their ability to pitch at a professional level. However, Webb shared a few characteristics with the A's collegiate draft choices -- he had an advanced understanding of how to throw strikes.

He is also the son of a former major leaguer, which is a characteristic the A's have seemed to value. Over the past several years, the A's have used draft choices on a number of children of former major leaguers (Bobby Crosby, Nick Swisher, Don Sutton, Jared Lansford), in part because they feel that children of big league players are less likely to be over-whelmed by the professional baseball environment.

Ryan's father is Hank Webb, who spent parts of five seasons with the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ryan credits his father for preparing him to compete in professional baseball.

"My dad taught me everything I know about baseball. We talk every day on the phone and before and after every game. It's just like it was in high school, except now it is over the phone instead of at the dinner table," Webb said.

Webb wasn't alive during his father's playing days, but he did get more exposure to major league players than most kids.

"I didn't spend time in any major league clubhouses growing up, but my dad knew people who gave us a few opportunities to be on the field with major league players. I definitely didn't grow up star-struck [by major league players]," Webb said.

After electing to go professional and sign with the A's, Webb began his career with the A's Arizona Rookie League team last season. He made eight appearances for the Arizona A's and he caught the eye of a number of scouts with his eye-popping 23:1 K:BB ratio. Despite being only 19, Webb was promoted to A-Kane County to start the 2005 season.

Webb has held his own so far this season, even though he is regularly facing hitters who are two or three years older then he is and have years of collegiate baseball under their belts. His record for Kane County is only 3-6, but he has a very respectable 4.30 ERA and has averaged nearly six innings a start. Webb has also struck out 51 batters against 20 walks in 69 innings pitched. The Florida native has seen this season as a learning experience.

"Every game presents a different challenge. One game I might struggle with a line-up the first time through and then settle down and dominate the rest of the game and another game I might dominate the first time through and then struggle with the second or third time," Webb said.

"While it is a challenge [to pitch in the Midwest League], I am excited about the success I do have because I know that when I finally put it all together that I can be a dominant pitcher."

According to Webb, the level of instruction in the Midwest League is a lot different than it is was in the Rookie League.

"The main difference between the two levels is the amount of in-game instruction. In the rookie league, you receive a lot of instruction during the game. In that league, they emphasize to you that results don't matter. Some games they might have you throw just one pitch to get you to work on that particular thing," Webb said.

"Here you get instruction in-between starts in side sessions, etc., but once you are in the game, you are there to play."

One of Webb's main focuses this season has been to develop a consistent change-up.

"This is the first season that I am really using my change-up effectively. I was learning how to pitch with it last year," Webb said.

He works closely with Kane County pitching coach Garvin Alston to make improvements throughout the season.

"Our pitching coach gives us goal sheets before each game where we write down what we want to work on in that game, like getting ahead in the count or fixing a mechanical issue or getting deeper into a game. After the start, we go over the goal sheets to see how we did in meeting those goals," Webb said.

In addition to working with Alston, Webb takes every opportunity to watch other pitchers, especially those at the major league level, to see what he can learn from them.

"I watch a lot of major league pitchers on TV. I think that every time you watch a major league pitcher, you can learn something," Webb said.

Webb doesn't set any statistical goals for himself before each season, preferring instead to focus on improving his approach and refining his pitching repertoire. He also knows that as a 19 year-old, he won't be rushed through the A's system.

"My goal is to spend one year at every level. As a high school pitcher, I'm not expecting to move quickly," Webb said.

"If I can be in Stockton next year, Midland the year after and Sacramento the year after that, I have a chance to be in the big leagues at 23-24 and that would be great."

Until that time, Webb will continue to glean advice from his father and from Alston on how to improve as a pitcher. He also figures to be the trailblazer for the high school pitchers that the A's drafted in the 2005 class.

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