HUNTERSVILLE In March, North Mecklenburg High’s baseball team played at Hough. Right-hander Ryder Ryan was on the mound for the Vikings, throwing against one of his school’s biggest rivals.
Hough coach Jimmy Cochran knew his team would have its hands full with Ryan, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior named an All-American after his junior year. That’s when Ryan hit .593 with five home runs. As a pitcher, his ERA was 0.72 ERA and he struck out 109.
Ryan, who has signed with North Carolina and also plays catcher and third base, is projected to be chosen during the third or fourth round of June’s Major League Baseball amateur draft. If he goes that high, he can expect a signing bonus anywhere from $375,000 to $750,000.
In the March game against Hough, Ryan gave the Huskies and Cochran an example of why he’s so sought-after. He beat them 7-0.
“In the first inning,” Cochran said, “he was at 88 (mph, according to a scout’s speed gun). But as the game went on, he got better. He was at 94 in the fifth, sixth and seventh inning. And that’s the seperator for him, the velocity. As a hitter, he’s got power all over the field and can change the game with one swing of the bat. He’s one of the best we’ve had come through here in a while.”
Ryan, whose team will open the N.C. 4A baseball playoffs Wednesday at Lake Norman, turned 19 Sunday. In addition to baseball, he enjoys playing basketball and fishing. His smartphone includes music from rappers Wiz Khalifa and Gucci Mane and country singers Jason Aldean and Kenny Chesney. The country music is a nod to Ryan’s grandfather, Tim Ryan, who has written songs and recorded albums with Hank Williams Jr. and toured with the Marshall Tucker Band, playing fiddle.
Another of Ryan’s grandparents, John Rantala, is said to have played on the Canadian water polo team during the 1970s. His great uncle, Ed Madjeski, played catcher for four seasons in the majors – for the Chicago White Sox, New York Giants and Philadelphia Athletics during the 1930s.
“It’s a pretty interesting family tree,” said Ryan’s father, Sean.
Sean Ryan also is North Meck’s baseball coach. He played in college at Rutgers and played Class AAA ball in the Phillies’ organization. Sean’s brother, Jason, pitched 11 seasons in the minor leagues and played in the majors for two. In 2000, Jason Ryan was on the Minnesota Twins’ roster with future Boston Red Sox world champion David Ortiz.
Baseball has played a major role in the Ryan family.
“Seems like I’ve played since I was born,” Ryder said. “I’ve always been around the game of baseball. I like everything about it, the competition, the comraderie, the bond you make with teammates.”
During the regular season, Ryan was 5-1 as a pitcher with an 0.58 ERA. He had 81 strikeouts in 48 innings. He batted .571 with six home runs and 27 RBIs. He also was walked 33 times in 21 regular-season games.
“He’s got some God-given abilities,” said Providence coach Danny Hignight. “He’s got freaky power with his bat and with his arm. He’s one of the top three players in North Carolina, if you want me to be honest.”
North Meck was 8-18 the year before Sean Ryan became coach. Last season, the Vikings were 13-12. This year, they tied Hough for the MECKA 4A regular-season title, North Meck’s first league championship in six years. The Vikings also reached the conference tournament final before losing 7-2 to Hough last week.
Of course, Ryder Ryan was a big part of all that success.
At the plate, he hits for power and average, coaches say. On the mound, Ryan said he has five pitches – including a slider, which is his best. But it is his fastball that has drawn the attention of scouts.
“I’ve hit 97 (mph) on the (speed) gun this year,” Ryan said. “At the beginning of the year, a scout came up to my dad and said, ‘Do you know how hard your son just threw?’ The scouts tell me my delivery looks easy. I haven’t been doing it all my life. I usually don’t pitch. I started when I was little, but I play so many positions I don’t work at it. I still throw that hard, though, and I think that’s why scouts are impressed.”
Last year, Ryan chose North Carolina over South Carolina, Georgia, Clemson and N.C. State. His father said North Carolina’s coaches have told his son he can play multiple positions, but the family also is working through a big decision: turn pro or go to school.
“It’s been a really fun ride,” Sean Ryan said. “There’s a lot of communication going on. I need to email scouts on a weekly basis and let them know when he’s playing, where he’s playing. But the draft has changed so much. You’re not finding guys in the 10th round signing for seven figures anymore, so we really have to do our homework on the draft. But it’s a lot of fun going through it again from a totally different perspective.”
Ryder said he anxiously awaits what’s next – this week’s playoffs, and possibly the biggest summer of his life.
“I’ve waited my whole life for this moment,” he said. “I’m so honored. I’m so blessed to be in this position. A lot of kids, this doesn’t happen for them. I’m not about to take anything for granted.”
Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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