The Tigers selected Ryan in the 48th round of the 2003 draft, choosing to follow him through his sophomore season at Merced College. As a freshman, the 18-year old backstop managed a .256 average and eleven doubles heading into the draft. During his sophomore season, Dusty gave the Tigers every reason to try signing him away from his commitment to Oklahoma State; posting a .398/.477/.617 line with a conference leasing six home runs and 41 RBI. These lofty totals earned him All-Central Valley Conference honors, and pushed the Tigers to sign him right before the June deadline in 2004.
As a rookie with Oneonta in the New York-Penn League, Ryan kept right on hitting and even ranking as high as 20th in TigsTown's 2004 prospect rankings. Dusty's .274/.369/.433 line at the age of nineteen earned him TigsTown's Oneonta Player of the Year award. Ryan got off to a hot start in 2005 at West Michigan, but quickly faded and finished with a very disappointing .183 average and only four home runs in 75 games. Though he saw improvement with a return to the ‘Caps in 2006, there was still disappointment surrounding his lackluster .245/.344/.354 line in 98 games. Dusty missed much of the early part of the 2007 season as he recovered from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, and returned to pop seven home runs in 46 games while hitting .214 for Lakeland in High-A
Ryan is an elite level defender behind the plate with Gold Glove potential. His receiving and blocking skills are first rate, instilling tremendous confidence from his pitchers. He moves well behind the plate, and has excellent footwork on his throws. Dusty's arm is one of the strongest catcher's arms in the system, and he has improved the accuracy on his throws since turning pro. Ryan is a natural leader and as he has begun to become more vocal on the field, his importance to the team's performance has increased steadily.
At the plate, Dusty's largest asset is his above-average raw power. He has the ability to drive balls out to any part of any park, with very strong arms and a sturdy torso and legs. His swing mechanics have become more consistent, though he still has a tendency to extend his arms too much, slowing his bat speed and sapping some of his power. He struggles with pitch recognition, leaving him vulnerable to breaking balls out of his zone, but he has demonstrated an ability to mash any fastball he sees. Ryan is a slightly below average runner with decent instincts on the bases.
The ceiling here could be as high as that of a starting big league catcher, but without progress in his pitch recognition and strikeout rates, he may not get quite to that level. With his power and defensive prowess, there is a strong likelihood that Ryan crafts a lengthy career as a platoon or backup catcher, at a bare minimum.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% AA
Ryan has completely recovered from the surgery to repair his torn meniscus, and there have been no lingering issues with his knees. Any time a catcher is forced under the knife as it relates to their knees that is cause for concern, but until something else crops up, we can safely assume he is a pretty durable backstop.
Ryan has more than handled the promotion to Double-A Erie and his brief trial in Toledo, demonstrating tremendous defense and good ability at the plate. He is slugging the ball and working good at-bats with regularity, which are positive signs in his development.
With the Tigers concerns at the catching position heading into 2009, Ryan will have a wonderful opportunity to enter Spring Training with a chance to impress and earn a big league job. He is the most Major League ready catching option in the system, and that time could come as soon as this fall during September call-ups. Don't expect offense to come easy for Dusty at the big league level, as he is the type of player that could well require a substantial adjustment period before taking off.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.