Persistent is a great way to describe left-handed pitcher Ryan Verdugo. Throughout his baseball career he has consistently strived to improve and raise himself to new levels. This in itself is not remarkable, but what sets him apart is the way that he has consistently surpasses expectations, with no end in sight.
After graduating from Lake Stevens High School (Washington) in 2005, Verdugo was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 43rd round of the MLB Draft. Instead he ended up needing Tommy John surgery and ultimately chose to attend Skagit Valley College. After making his way back from surgery and pitching effectively, he was drafted once again, this time in the 47th round in 2007 by the San Francisco Giants. Despite the temptation of starting a professional career he knew he had more work to do and transferred to LSU. It ended up being a wise choice, as Verdugo dominated his junior year with the Tigers, appearing in 20 games, going 9-4 with a 4.12 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 96 innings. In 2008, the Giants, having kept tabs on him all year, drafted Verdugo again; this time in the 9th round, and quickly signed him.
Verdugo pitched exclusively in relief in his first couple of professional seasons, and while producing excellent results, injuries prevented him from getting into as many games as he or the franchise wanted. He had a breakout season in 2010, going 8-1 with a 1.87 ERA in 44 games, all but one in relief. Most impressive were the 94 strikeouts he piled up in 62.2 innings.
The Giants decided to return Verdugo to a starting role in 2011 to capitalize on his momentum from the previous year. He had an 8-6 record and 4.35 ERA, solid, but unspectacular numbers. However, he maintained his high strikeout rate, punching out 133 hitters in 130.1 innings. His performance confirmed that he had the ability to start or relieve, dramatically boosting his prospect status.
Verdugo’s continued rising star was capitalized on by the Giants, who included him in a trade with the Kansas City Royals this past off-season, flipping him and pitcher Jonathan Sanchez for outfielder Melky Cabrera. The Royals are already flush with young prospects, but believe they have a keeper in Verdugo, immediately adding him to their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
Shortly after being traded, Verdugo did an interview with me. He provided some insight on his career and experiences in baseball. He is a player to monitor closely this season, and is primed to make an impact on the rebuilding Royals, so don’t be surprised to see him in the majors by the end of the year.
Ryan Verdugo Interview:
Who were your favorite team and player growing up and why?: Well, growing up in Seattle made my favorite team the Seattle Mariners, and my favorite player was Ken Griffey, Jr. Growing up and watching him play in the Kingdome is something I will never forget. He made the game look so easy and he had that smooth swing that every kid dreamed of having. Plus, him being left handed made me idolize him even more since I’m left handed.
What pitches do you have in your arsenal, and which one do you think you need to improve the most?: I throw a fastball, a changeup, and a slider. As for more improvement, I’m sure they all can use more improvement, but the slider needs to get a little better, and my fastball command is something I am always looking to improve. You never stop trying to get better and improving stuff as a pitcher.
Can you run through what your draft experiences have been like?: I got drafted by the Phillies out of high school, and they offered the draft and follow route to me. Then I ended up having to have Tommy John right out of high school, so that kind of went out the window. Then I got drafted again by the Giants out of junior college, but elected to take the college route and went to LSU. That was probably the best choice I could have made. After my junior year, I got drafted in the 9th round by the Giants again, and decided to sign.
How scary was it to have Tommy John Surgery right out of high school?: It was a little scary to have that major surgery right out of high school, but I had a good doctor and a good physical trainer, as well as a good coach to help me through it all. It was a big deal, but at the same time I had a pretty easy recovery back, and honestly, I forget a lot that I even had the surgery.
How did you find out that you were traded to the Royals this off-season?: I was actually golfing with my Dad when I found out I got traded. Bobby Evans (vice president of baseball operations) from the Giants called me and said he had bad news and that I was being traded to the Royals. Then about 5-10 minutes later I got a call from the Royals, saying congrats and welcoming me to them. It was a pretty overwhelming experience. The new Twitter followers helped ease that though for me.
I have read that Matt Cain mentored you some while you were in San Francisco organization. How did he help you?: Matt Cain was a really down to earth guy and he kind of talked me through some frustrations I had. He just tried to put things in perspective for me and not get overwhelmed or too frustrated, since I tend to be my own worst enemy sometimes. All the guys at big league camp were great though, but he probably helped me the most.
Do you think you have a chance of making the Royals out of spring training in 2012?: I honestly don’t know what my chance is. I’m just getting ready and preparing myself to have the best shot. if I make the team, that obviously would be great, but I know I have a lot of work to do. If I don’t it’s not going to stop me from working towards my ultimate goal of making the big leagues. I’m going to work though and go about it as if I have a good chance.