Name: Ryan Doherty
History: Ryan Doherty is easy to recognize, and if you've faced him he's easy to remember. The 7'1" right hander out of Notre Dame has made headlines since college, despite not being considered a top prospect while in college. His upper 80s fastball was effective in college because of the dramatic downward plane created by his height. His secondary pitches though left much to be desired, and without either A) more velocity and/or B) better command of at least one secondary pitch, few thought his success could translate to the Majors.
Which explains why he was undrafted in June of '05. The D'Backs, always looking for pitching, and rarely afraid of a project (see Jason Neighborgall), took a flyer on Doherty and signed him as an undrafted free agent. The first step was tweaking his delivery. The D'Backs wanted Doherty to continue using his height, but start using his legs to generate more drive. Mission accomplished. By the end of his first pro campaign, at Short Season A Yakima of the Northwest League, Doherty's fastball had moved consistently into the low 90s and his command improved dramatically.
Pitches: Doherty's breaking stuff is still a work in progress. "He doesn't have any plus pitch right now," one scout who watched Doherty throughout the season said, "but about two or three times a game he snaps a fastball or a curveball off that is just dominating." Certainly one or two pitches a game is not going to get it done in the long run, but that same scout has apparently drank the Kool-Aid.
"You look at the progress he made coming out of Notre Dame, where his mechanics were just a mess, until now, and you can't help but think if his learning curve stays on this track, he might be better than anyone thinks."
The first pitch, in fact the only pitch, the D'Backs really worked on with Doherty this year was his fastball, because they weren't really working on his pitches, they were working on his mechanics. South Bend Silverhawks Manager Mark Haley told FutureBacks.com that it isn't unusual with a guy Doherty's size (or even close, since most believe Doherty's the tallest player in the history of the game) that his mechanics would be a battle, and one that will continue.
"It's going to take time because he's got an exceptional type of body like a big strong kid [has]. You've got to worry about mechanics because it's a lot harder to control that ball and lever that's longer than anybody else's in baseball." Those long arms and legs will eventually be a consistent advantage because when he's right he's actually releasing the ball closer to 50 feet from the plate, rather than the 52 or 54 feet most pitchers are releasing the ball from. That two feet translates into an extra two or three miles per hour, even if it doesn't show up on the radar gun.
"If the coaches can consistently get him throwing 92," our scout says, "it's going to look closer to 96, because he's releasing the ball so much closer to the plate."
Prediction: This is not going to be a 'fast track' guy.
"He is such a project," D'Backs Director of Player Development AJ Hinch says of Doherty.
The D'Backs got him cheap, and with that upside, they are willing to give him time. He is likely at least four full seasons from a consistent spot in the bigs, and he'll fight against his mechanics for the rest of his career.
"You could see it," our scout said, "every once in awhile he would throw a pitch and just start shaking his head, because he realized his mechanics were way off. What was impressive though was that on the next pitch they would be perfect. At a certain point you hope he doesn't have to think about it, and he can just throw. When that happens, he's a closer, no doubt."
Doherty will continue to come out of the bullpen, but D'Backs coaches, including Mark Haley, aren't 100% sure he's a game ender, in fact there is more than one person in the D'Backs organization who thinks his height might benefit him more as a starter.
Major League Clone: Chris Young
ETA: 2010. If his mechanics make a big jump, it could be a year sooner, but it is likely to take Doherty another two full years to become consistent with those mechanics, and another year to develop either a change up or more consistent curveball to complement the downward plane of the fastball. He's not going to be coming to Chase Field any time soon, but once he does, he should stick around for awhile, like his hero, another dominating big man, Randy Johnson.