Strieby powers way to top prospect status
The first thing that stands out about Ryan Strieby is that he’s big, really big. He’s every bit of his listed size of 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. Dontrelle Willis gave him the nickname Polar Bear while they were working while they were working out at the same performance complex in Arizona this winter.
Strieby’s bat lives up every bit to his size. His two home runs so far this spring — one in the exhibition win over Florida Southern that didn’t count in the stats, the other in Sunday’s loss to the Blue Jays — have both been big, wind or no wind. Whenever he connects to the ball, it seems to be with authority.
“I mean, I’m a pretty big guy,” he said, “so I guess I should have pretty good power.”
He doesn’t mean that to brag. He says it unassumingly. He considers himself a hitter rather than a power hitter, but he hits the ball hard so often.
“I guess a lot of people view me as a power hitter,” he said, “but I really don’t try to hit the ball out of the park. Try to stay up the middle and hit line drives. A lot of times, I hit the ball with backspin and it carries out of the yard.”
He hits with enough power that it’s hard not to notice him. He certainly has caught the Tigers’ attention, even before Sunday’s homer.
Manager Jim Leyland uses the term “top prospect” maybe a little more loosely than others, but he nonetheless does it with a purpose. A top prospect, by his definition, has a chance to be an everyday player in the big leagues. Strieby fits the category of top prospect.
He has the talent to hit regularly in the big leagues. Now he has to have the health to go with it. He might finally be at that point again.
The start of Strieby’s injury problems came down the stretch of his breakout 2008 season. He hit 29 home runs at Class A Lakeland, pounding the ball in what is historically a pitcher’s league with big ballparks, when he fractured the hamate bone in his left wrist down the stretch. He recovered in time for Spring Training last year in minor league camp, but had some more problems that shelved him there. He bounced back healthy early in the season, only to have his hand problems come back.
It sapped some of the power out of his frame. He had moved from spacious Joker Marchant Stadium to the cozy surroundings of Erie’s Jerry Uht Park, what should’ve been paradise for a right-handed power hitter in the summer, yet his power just about vanished once the weather warmed up. He hit 19 home runs for the season, and 12 of them came in April and May. He could still hit for average, mind you, but the power wasn’t there.
With the hand bothering him, he said, he couldn’t turn on a pitch the way he usually does.
“When the hand’s feeling good, I can turn on [the ball] a little bit more,” he said. “The pitch away is a little bit easier. When the hand’s hurting, I can go with that. But when the hand was hurting on the top side, getting my hand through on the inside pitch, that’s what was causing that pain was that movement. That’s what was making it difficult to get through the inside pitch.
Doctors found a bone fragment in his hand and almost immediately operated. He lost not only the tail end of his regular season, but his assignment to the Arizona Fall League. His good friend and Erie teammate Casper Wells made a return trip there in his place and thrived.
Now, after going through the rigors of performance training over the winter, they’re both thriving in camp. Strieby is turning on pitches, and Leyland is catching a glimpse of what he hopes could be a homegrown power hitter if he develops further at Triple-A Toledo, where he’s likely to see time.
“To be healthy, that’s the main thing,” Strieby said. “Coming in, I’m just happy with how my hand’s felt so far. That’s the No. 1 priority, to get through Spring Training healthy, especially after hurting it last year and not knowing exactly what was wrong with it, trying to play through the pain.”