Friday, June 12, 2009
Ryan Hanigan: From Rollins College to the Cincinnati Reds
When the Rollins College baseball team hosted the Cincinnati Reds for a spring training exhibition in 2001, no one could have anticipated that one of the Tars would some day be living the big-league dream as a key member of the Reds.
But fast-forward ahead eight years and sure enough in 2009 former Rollins standout Ryan Hanigan is making a huge impact behind the plate for the resurgent Reds.
Hanigan’s road to the majors wasn’t typical or easy, but now that he has arrived, the 28-year old doesn’t seem interested in leaving anytime soon.
After a standout career at Andover High School in Andover, Massachusetts, Hanigan traveled 1,300 miles to attend college at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.
A Division II school of 1,700 students known as a favorite destination for college students from New England looking to attend school in a warmer climate, Rollins has a long baseball tradition dating back to 1954 when they became the smallest school ever to compete in the Division I College World Series.
Though recognized primarily for cultivating baseball executives–including current or former major league general managers Jim Bowden, Dan O’Dowd and Dan O’Brien–Rollins has produced a number of former major leaguers including 1979 AL co-Rookie of the Year John Castino and former New York Yankee Clay Bellinger.
Ironically, while Hanigan has earned distinction at the professional level for his great play behind the plate, most of his time at Rollins was spent playing other positions.
When he joined the Tars in 2000, the team already had an All-American caliber catcher in Kevin Davidson. Davidson went on to be selected by the Houston Astros in the 2002 amateur draft and advanced as high as Triple-A during his career.
Even as a freshman, Hanigan was too talented as a hitter to be held out of the lineup and earned playing time at multiple other positions including the outfield, first base and third base.
By his sophomore season, Hanigan had become the leading run producer on the Rollins squad and the starting leftfielder. He hit .354 with 13 doubles, two home runs and 54 RBI. Displaying the same plate protection he now shows at the major league level, Hanigan walked 23 times while striking out only 16 times.
It was during this season that Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Larkin and the Cincinnati Reds made a preseason stop at Harper-Shepherd Field in Winter Park for an exhibition game with the Tars.
Even though the Reds brought only a handful of the players who were on their major league roster at the time, the game actually ended up including several players who would eventually become big leaguers. In addition to Griffey, Larkin and Deion Sanders, the Reds’ lineup for the game also included Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Rob Bell, Raul Gonzalez, and Jim Brower.
Hanigan batted third for the Tars and went 1-4 while seeing action at both rightfield and leftfield. Cincinnati won the contest by the final score of 3-1.
During the 2002 season, the Tars posted a 41-16 record and reached the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time in nine years. Hanigan was a major factor in the success finishing second on the team with a .384 batting average while again leading the team in RBI’s with 48.
After playing only a handful of games at catcher during his first three seasons, Hanigan was slated to move back behind the plate full-time for the 2003 season.
However, after catching the attention of scouts with his play behind the plate in the Cape Cod Summer League, Hanigan chose to forgo his final year in college and sign with the Cincinnati Reds. At the time, Rollins graduate Jim Bowden was the general manager for the Reds.
While Bowden’s tenure with the franchise ended in 2003, Hanigan steadily moved up through the system.
After signing as a minor league free agent in August of 2002, he appeared in six games that season for the Reds’ Single-A team in Dayton. The next season he spent most of the year in Dayton and hit .277 with 31 RBI playing exclusively behind the plate.
Though never considered a top prospect because of his lack of home run power, Hanigan continued to rise in the organization due to his solid defensive, plate discipline and improving offensive production.
He advanced to Double-A Chattanooga in 2005 and in both 2006 and 2007 split time between Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville.
Hanigan made his major league debut as a September call-up in 2007. In 2008, he made the Triple-A All-Star team and was hitting .324 when he was promoted to the majors in August 2008.
Seeing significant action over the final two months of the season, Hanigan made his pitch for a full-time spot on the big league roster by hitting .271 with two home runs and nine RBI. He also displayed his talents behind the plate throwing out 35% of would-be base stealers.
When the Reds traded for veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez in the off-season, it looked like Hanigan was destined for a backup role in 2009.
That proved to be the case for the first month of the season as Hanigan started only four games in April. However, he made the most of those rare chances with hits in all four starts while batting .357.
Even though Hanigan was seeing only limited action, he was obviously making a positive impression because when starting first baseman Joey Votto went down with an injury in early May, manager Dusty Baker shuffled his lineup and inserted Hanigan as the starting catcher.
Since May 6, Hanigan has been behind the plate for 22 of 29 games with Hernandez moving to first base. Overall, Hanigan has started 27 games so far this season and has registered at least one hit in 20 of those games.
He leads all national league rookies with a .320 batting average and also has a .407 on base percentage. Displaying great plate coverage, Hanigan has walked 15 times, while striking out only eight times.
Defensively, Hanigan is earning a reputation as one of the toughest catchers in the league to run against. He has allowed only seven stolen bases, while throwing out ten men (59%).
It has been a long and challenging road to the majors for the former free agent from a small Division II school, but Ryan Hanigan has proven that he belongs and seems destined to be around for a while.