Oakland A's relief prospect Ryan Dull had an eventful first full professional season, and that journey is continuing this fall in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League. The A's 2012 32nd-round pick climbed three levels during the regular season and took home OaklandClubhouse's Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year award in the process.
Dull began the year with Low-A Beloit, but after posting a 2.10 ERA and a 35:3 K:BB in 25.2 innings, Dull punched his ticket for a promotion to High-A Stockton. The jump to the hitter-friendly California League didn't phase Dull, who pitched even better for the Ports. He posted a 1.59 ERA and had a 31:3 K:BB ratio in 22.1 innings. That earned Dull a trip to Double-A Midland for the final month of the season. His production fell off a bit with the RockHounds (4.63 ERA and two homeruns allowed in 11.2 innings), but he still struck-out more than a batter an inning (12) and he walked only three.
Dull finished the season with an 8.67 K/BB, which was the best in the A's system. He also posted an 0.88 WHIP, allowed just 6.6 hits per nine innings and 0.4 homers per nine innings. Dull's K/9 was 11.7. He finished second amongst A's minor leaguers with 19 saves.
The right-hander is off to a bit of a slow start with the Mesa Solar Sox this fall. He has allowed four earned runs in six innings and has walked an uncharacteristic three batters. However, he worked a clean inning in his last outing on October 28th. Between the Fall League and the regular season, Dull has now appeared in 51 games this season and has thrown 66 innings.
We spoke with Dull about his successful first pro season, what he is working on for next year, his thoughts on the fall league and more…
OaklandClubhouse: What are your impressions thus far of the Arizona Fall League?
Ryan Dull: It's all that it's advertised to be. You get to play against the best of the best in the minors right now. There is some great competition.
OC: What has been the biggest challenge for you during the AFL thus far?
RD: I would say it's just trying to find the right routine and keep that same routine over and over. Also, you have to adjust to the talent and make sure you make your quality pitches.
OC: Is it different for you as a reliever knowing what days you will pitch as opposed to during the regular season when you might be called on pretty much at any time?
RD: Yes, definitely. We have a schedule of what is going on day-to-day. We know that if we throw one day, we won't throw the next, so it gives you a window to get your work in.
OC: Are you working on any adjustments during the AFL?
RD: We are not really focusing on changing anything. We are more so focusing on staying aggressive in the ‘zone and forcing contact and trying to get contact as quickly as possible, in three pitches or less.
OC: John Wasdin is one of your pitching coaches and he's obviously from the A's organization, but you also have Mike Maroth from the Tigers' organization as a pitching coach. Is it helpful to have a pitching coach from another organization there to look at you probably for the first time and give you his impressions of what you are doing?
RD: It does. It gives you a chance to see what other people think of you and get some insight the first time they see you. They get to see you progress over the course of the month.
OC: Can you describe what this season was like for you? You moved up three levels, which would be unusual for any season, but this was your first full professional campaign. Was it a whirlwind or what you were expecting?
RD: It was definitely the grind that everybody says it is. I enjoyed getting the opportunity to move up to the different levels. But it definitely takes a toll. You have to be mentally prepared for anything to come.
OC: When you jumped up to Double-A, did you notice a real difference in the level of competition compared to Low-A and High-A?
RD: I noticed a little bit of a difference. There are more patient hitters in Double-A. More hitters had a plan at the plate and you had to be really conscious of how you wanted to attack the hitter.
OC: I have heard one of your pitches described as the ‘ghost pitch.' Can you tell me what that pitch is?
RD: [laughs] It's just my fastball. They started calling it the ghost ball in Beloit because every time I threw it, it just disappeared at the plate and nobody could hit it.
OC: Do you think there is a particular reason that pitch has that effect?
RD: I honestly have no idea. I was just surprised when they started calling it that.
OC: You had one of the best strike-out to walk ratios of any pitcher in minor league baseball this year. You talked about being aggressive in the strike-zone. Is that something that you have always done dating back to high school or is that something that has developed over time?
RD: It is something that has been implanted into my pitching since high school. My high school coach, Allen Plaster, was actually in the A's organization at one time. Some of the things he taught me in high school included attacking the hitters early and getting ahead and staying ahead in counts and just attacking hitters when you need to to force contact. I kept with that all through college and brought it into the pros.
OC: What pitches are you throwing besides the fastball?
RD: Slider and change-up.
OC: Is there a secondary pitch that you think is your best right now?
RD: I feel like I have used the slider and change-up a lot. My slider has been my go-to pitch, but they want me to use my change-up even more now than I have been.
OC: Do you find the change-up is a good equalizer against left-handers?
RD: I have used it against lefties. I've actually used all three pitches against left-handers and right-handers. It gives them a different look. It's something they aren't used to seeing all of the time.
OC: They don't really designate closers in the minor leagues as much, but you have been used in late-inning situations a lot this year. Does it feel different to pitch in the ninth inning of a game with a small lead than it does in the sixth or seventh inning of a game?
RD: The last three are the three hardest outs to get. Everyone is watching you knowing that it's your job to get these final three outs. I really enjoy it.
OC: Was there anything that you took away from this season that you will carryover into next year, in terms of preparation or anything like that?
RD: You always need to take care of your body. I now know truly how big of a grind a full season is. I'm probably going to prepare even more for next year to make sure that I don't feel the effects of the grind towards the end of next year.
OC: A few of your Mesa Solar Sox teammates were teammate of yours this season in Stockton and Midland. Does it make it easier for you to adjust to this league to have teammates in the bullpen with you that you have pitched with before?
RD: It has made it a little bit more comfortable. You know somebody and how well they do and what to expect when they go in. It's also nice to hear from the guys I wasn't teammates with to hear what their philosophies are, as well.
OC: I saw on Twitter that you had a chance to get on the field of the Arizona Cardinals game. What was that experience like?
RD: It was really fun. I got to see some of the biggest and best athletes up close and see what they have to do to compete and how they go about their work getting ready for the games.
OC: Do you have any specific goals for your time in the Arizona Fall League?
RD: I really didn't set any goals. I wanted to come here and continue the work that I did this season and see the results that I want to see.