D-backs Prospect Interview: Rusty Ryal

Rusty Ryal has been streaky this year for the Mobile BayBears, having hit .325 in April, .255 in May, .320 in June, and just .183 in July. He then collected six hits and drove in four in his first three August games. Rusty is getting ready for a night game against the Carolina Mudcats when Futurebacks catches up with the infielder for an interview.

Rusty Ryal can not remember a time when he did not know how to swing a bat. And how could he? The game of baseball is in his blood and in his name. His father played parts of six different seasons in the major leagues for the Royals, White Sox, Angels, Phillies, and Pirates, and his home is in Oklahoma where everybody has a connection to the Mick, Mickey Mantle. Even his name is tailor-made for baseball, as his father has been quoted saying that he thought it was "a good baseball name" when he picked it out.

Now in this his fourth minor-league season, Ryal has been alternating between second and third base for the Mobile BayBears in the Southern League.

"Honestly, I've gotten to the point where second and third base are equally comfortable for me," Ryal reveals.  "I don't feel one is better than the other. I have a different mind frame when I play second than third, because there's different things you have to know at each position. At second there are double cuts, double plays, hits and runs. On balls hit to third you're more stationary, but yet you have to be on your toes because they're hit differently and there's a lot more time to react at second base. I've just established a comfortable mindset and frame to play both of them. Infielders all have the same fundamentals, just different reads."

For Rusty, baseball is about reading the situation on the field, understanding the situation and then executing your gameplan. This is true when playing defense and when hitting. On his approach to facing pitchers, he says that he tries to get as much information as he can.

"Certain catchers have certain gameplans," Ryal explains. "The main thing is to slow everything down and try to simplify. That's the trouble sometimes. Finding out what adjustment I have to make in a situation. That's the tough part about baseball, is making mental observations and figuring it out. I try to process as much information as I can, and get as much perspective as I can. We're all different players and different hitters."

Ryal notes, however, that there are three things every major league hitter does and every hitter ought to do: "Recognize pitches. Be ready to hit. And control your zone," he recites.  "From there on, the physical parts are going to be different. You take as much information as you can, place it in your mind and your physical work during batting practice, and put what you practice into your playing."

When preparing for a ballgame, Rusty will only occasionally look at the opposing pitchers' statistics, mostly when he has not seen the pitcher before.

"You can't hit a pitcher on paper," he quips.  "If I've seen a pitcher, I remember his release point, his consistency, and the experience I had before. But you've always got to see what a guy's throwing that day. Every time you face a guy, he's a different pitcher, and you just have to go out there and see if he's throwing sliders in the dirt, throwing fastballs over. Everyone's going to be a little different every day."

As of this writing Rusty, is emerging from a slump, and when asked how he deals with bad runs at the plate, he says that he doesn't think slumps exist.

"Baseball comes full circle, and I understand that. It's frustrating when it happens. It's not like I haven't produced for much of the year, but for two to three weeks, I struggled. Every player has that. You know, statistic-wise, you might look at it and say I wasn't doing as well, but I just look at it as I've got to get back on track."

I ask him what sort of off-the-field distractions there are in the minor leagues that might hurt a player in the short and long-term. "The biggest off-the-field distraction is the grind," he admits.  "Right now we're on a ten-game roadtrip, and I'm trying to survive as a player, just trying to get through the season and be consistent. When you're away from home five to six months and you don't see your family, it's a grind. There's so much downtime with this profession that it gives you a lot of time to think, but you're away from home. Your relationships become phone-based relationships. You just want to be in your own bed and watch your own TV and cable, but you can't. It takes a special person to play baseball. Those are the hardest struggles."

Through his pro career, Rusty has played in Missoula, Montana; Lancaster, California; Visalia, California; and Mobile, Alabama. He especially enjoys playing in Mobile and says that the rooters there are "second to none and take care of us." He also enjoys going to the beach on his days off. Rusty especially likes to fish.

"At home, we have a lot of pond-fishing. I grew up fishing with my grandpa. Hopefully I can take my kids fishing. I enjoy being outside, whether it's on freshwater or a river or a lake or an ocean."

In five years Ryal sees himself playing in the big leagues "for whoever gives me an opportunity, whether it's the Diamondbacks or someone else. I'm a firm believer that I can play in the big leagues. There's people that say I can play in the big leagues. Whether it's to play one game or one at-bat, play for one inning, that'd be a success for me. You want to prolong your career in the big leagues and play a long time, and that's where I foresee myself. That's my goal. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing to get to my goals."

Send questions or comments for Gregory Pratt to future_backs@yahoo.com

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