July Players of the Month Missoula

When you're looking at the Rookie Level Pioneer League and asking, "Who of these players will become big leaguers?" you might as well get blindfolded, spin around a few times and then throw a dull dart at wallet sized pictures of them. The ones that produce move up, the ones that move up have a better chance, and in July, few produced like these two.

Position Player Rusty Ryal

At 22 years old Ryal may be a little older than some of the guys in the Rookie Level Pioneer League, but he's showing that he should be higher, and despite solid prospects at third base up and down the organization, he may make a big jump next season.  In July he paced the Osprey with a .330 batting average and 20 RBI and tied Steve Mena for the team league in homers with three.  There were several Osprey in contention for Player of the Month, including Bryan Byrne who hit only .207 but showed incredible patience, drawing 21 walks, Greg Thompson who hit .325, and Osvaldo Diaz who slugged .462 and was a force in the middle of the lineup. 

Nobody, however, was as complete as Ryal.  He stole four bases in the month, led the team with 35 hits, played a solid third base, and understood that sulking wasn't going to get him moved up, producing would.

"Rusty's been great to watch," says Osprey second baseman Jo Jo Batten, "this is a guy who's been at a high level and played against tougher competition, and I learn a lot just watching him prepare."

It's been his consistency that has really impressed Batten.

"He hits the ball hard every time, just makes solid contact and runs everything out.  For a guy like me, in my first year of pro ball, it really makes you appreciate it when a guy like that is still running everything out, still working hard every at bat."

Ryal is caught in a tough spot.  In Tucson there's Brian Barden, Tennessee has Jaime D'Antona, Lancaster has Edgar Varela, and South Bend is working Mark Reynolds at third base, not to mention Troy Glaus and his big contract.  All are considered solid prospects, but none have gone out and grabbed the mantle of 'third baseman of the future.'  It mean that Ryal can move as fast as his bat will take him.  He has experience at higher levels, and coming into next season he'll have the opportunity to move up.  A few more months like his July, and it will happen.

Pitcher  Greg Smith

Pitchers, especially starting pitchers, in the Pioneer League are rarely asked to do more than not get hurt.  Many, like Greg Smith, are coming off a significant amount of innings in college ball, and all are raw, unproven pro prospects the organization is evaluating constantly.  So while relievers Eduardo Baeza and Vince Davis both impressed with high strikeout totals and low ERAs, Smith gets the nod as Pitcher of the Month for the Osprey.

His 3-2 record in July and 3.00 ERA are solid, but even more impressive was his six innings per start average in the month.  On a staff full of guys who have thrown 150+ innings, the Louisiana Lefty came out time an again looking to give the bullpen a day off.  He went at least five innings in every appearances, including a six inning start out of the bullpen and held opponents to a sick .183 batting average.  Arm with a low 90s fastball and sharp slider he was able to set up and put away hitters almost at will.  He struck out 42 in 36 July innings, walking only seven in the month.  Second on the team in strikeouts for July was fellow lefty Mark Romanczuk, but with wasn't a close race, as Romanczuk K'd just 27 in the month.

The Diamondbacks feel they got lefty with the highest ceiling in the 2005 draft in Smith, who the Diamondbacks took with their 6th round pick (171 overall), and have high hopes of him gliding through the system, but for this year the plan has been stay in Rookie Ball, get some work in and start the process of moving up next season.  He's already exceeded expectations, and if August is anything like July, they may have themselves a rapid riser in the mold of Matt Chico (who moved directly from Lo-A to Double-A in 2004) next year.

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