Tampa Bay Rays Already Learning to Appreciate Ryan Hanigan

By Robbie Knopf

Ryan Hanigan has yet to play his first game for the Tampa Bay Rays. In fact, his first official game will not be for another month and a half. In a rare twist of fate by Rays standards, however, Hanigan joins the team with high expectations. The Rays signed him to a three-year, $10.75 million extension with a team option for a fourth year just after they acquired him from the Cincinnati Reds, and the monetary commitment only tells half the story. Hanigan’s extension made him the first non-international player the Rays have signed to a contract of three years or more in the Andrew Friedman era who had never played a game in the organization beforehand. That is quite a standard to live up to. But even with his first game for the team barely visible in the distance, Hanigan is already making his presence felt.

From the onset, Hanigan has proved that his commitment to the team is absolute. He was already in Florida in mid-January, catching his new teammates and learning even more by watching video. Alex Cobb could not believe it.

"“It takes a little time to get to know people and get that relationship built, but he kind of sped that process up. That first bullpen I threw to him, he was already talking about stuff I did in the past and stuff he would like to see us try to build on and to try some new things.”"

But for Hanigan, that is “just part of the job.” Hanigan holds himself to a higher standard, and that is exactly what the Rays need. After years of teetering on the edge, the Rays decided that 2014 would be the year they would keep their players together for their best chance at a championship. And after years of dealing with mediocrity at catcher, the Rays finally stopped being complacent.

The Tampa Bay Rays have seen catchers of all types over the years. Every single one, though, had a “but” in their game. Jose Molina has never really hit and doesn’t throw out runners the way he used to. Jose Lobaton‘s defense was subpar. John Jaso‘s defense was even worse. Dioner Navarro did nothing aside from his All-Star campaign in 2008. And the list goes on and on from 1998 until 2013. Ryan Hanigan, however, will make 2014 and beyond a different story. He is far from a perfect player, but he gives you everything he could ask for. He puts in all the time it takes to make his pitchers comfortable working with him. He frames pitches, blocks balls in the dirt, and even throws out as many attempted basestealers as any catcher in baseball. Then at the plate, he lacks power but provides outstanding plate discipline and a knack for putting the ball in play. The Rays have never had another catcher as complete of a player as Ryan Hanigan. From before his first game with the team until the last moment of his final contest, Hanigan will make the Rays a better team in a multiplicity of ways.

"“I talked to Ryan Hanigan for five minutes the other day and I thought I knew him for the last 10 years.” – Joe Maddon"

Ryan Hanigan has not played a single game for the Rays yet, but the comfort zone is already there. He already feels like he has been in Tampa Bay forever. No wonder they Rays were confident enough to extend him for three years.