The Brian Wilson Plan: Giants Prospect Ryan Scoma Following Familiar Path To MLB
When the San Francisco Giants took Ryan Scoma in the 36th round of the 2009 amateur draft, the perpetual underdog from the Bay Area faced yet another uphill climb.
Baseball isn't quite like the National Football League or the National Basketball Association, where you can start looking for that job in sales or coaching if you don't get snapped up early.
But even the pearl doesn't make an extensive habit of rewarding those kids drafted in the waning rounds of its seemingly interminable entry event.
Many observers will argue the writing's on the wall when pro scouts decide there are 1,076 players more attractive than you on the big board.
Worse, they'll tell you the message it delivers ain't a pleasant one.
Fortunately for Ryan and many others like him, the Baseball Gods don't trouble themselves with logic, odds or wall writings. They follow a more Yoda-like wisdom: do or do not, and if you do?
Welcome to The Show.
Which is more good news for the San Carlos, Calif., product.
The bottom-line nature of the beautiful game has served Ryan well during his ascension through its more modest ranks. With more hard work and a little luck—something that's been in short supply thus far—it might carry him right into baseball's most rarefied air.
And if he can make it all the way to the Bigs, he'll add his version of the story to the dark horses the Gents already have.
Ryan Scoma State of the Union
Photo property of Bill Mitchell/Four Seam Images and MiLB.com
We'll get to the company Ryan Scoma is trying to keep in a minute or two, but first let's catch up with the San Francisco farmhand.
When last Ryan chatted with Bleacher Report, the outfielder had just been selected by Los Gigantes in the draft and his professional career was still cast in hopes and hypotheticals. There are still healthy doses of both when the discussion turns toward the Majors, but the outfielder now has two seasons' worth of professional actualities to dilute the ifs.
That much has changed; what hasn't changed is Scoma's approach.
"My experience has helped me these past couple of years because you've gotta prove yourself every day," he said. "Nothing is guaranteed."
Much like his transition from high school to junior college to UC Davis, the 23-year-old had to scrap for every iota of progress. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to hear he's done precisely that.
After a rough baptism by pro fire during Rookie Ball in 2009, Scoma bounced back with a vengeance in 2010. Having graduated to short-season Single-A, Ryan started raking once again—he posted a snazzy slash line of .310/.377/.402 with 13 doubles, three home runs and 34 RBI in 289 PA.
When asked to explain the disparate results, he showed his talents are not limited to the physical.
"It was a variety of things," he said. "Rookie ball was a little tough—I got hit in the face with a bat and pulled a muscle in my back twice. That limited me to only 100 at-bats; I got over 200 in short season."
Makes sense, right?
Your first taste of pro ball is probably going to have a bitter twinge even in the best of times. But if nagging injuries are messing with your timing and/or keeping you from the field? Oof.
Lest he give the impression the improvement was all Ryan Scoma's doing, he dropped one further nugget.
"I love the Giants...the organization is great and the coaching staff in Salem (Single-A short season) is phenomenal. (Salem manager) Tom Trebelhorn is so easy to play for."
That's an astute observation while flashing his confidence and deflecting some of the praise. Like I said, he's not just a skilled ballplayer.
As he prepares for his next step in the constant struggle to realize his dream, Ryan is keeping his nose to the grindstone while embracing the challenge.
"I'm not intimidated by anyone," he said. "They're just standing in the what of what I love to do so I'm excited. I've always believed in my abilities and worked to be ready for every opportunity."
And he's still working.
Some call him a natural hitter, but don't tell Ryan that because he sure spends a lot of time honing his craft for a guy born into the discipline. A day in the life usually includes a couple hours hitting in the cage, 100-200 balls off a tee (about the only time hitters don't like to hit) and a date with live pitching whenever he can find a coach or ex-teammate to do the dirty work.
Of course, like all ballplayers, Scoma's got a little superstition to him.
"Never finish on a bad one (swing)," he said. "You've gotta get in some kind of zone to hit."
Tough to argue with the results so I won't bother, especially since the kid's gonna need more of 'em to graduate to the next level and continue his trek over well-worn ground.
The Trailblazers—Matt Downs, 36th Round
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
We're starting with a little bit of a stretch since Matt Downs is no longer a San Francisco Giant. Nevertheless, he must be included on the list.
Sure, Downs didn't exactly set the world afire in Orange and Black, and now draws his paycheck from the Houston Astros' front office. But he also was drafted in the 36th round just like Scoma, and Ryan stayed with Downs at one point during his migration through the minors.
Furthermore, Matt's apparently good enough that the 'Stros claimed him off waivers from the Gents in 2010. So maybe SF didn't want to retain him, but Houston certainly wanted to acquire him.
Still, consider this the worst-case scenario of realizing a major-league dream (as it currently stands).
Because those who never made it would kill for Downs' cup of coffee, but I'm guessing those who are still prospects would like a lot more.
The Trailblazers—Thomas Neal, 36th Round
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Giants fans can tell I'm easing into the countdown since Thomas Neal has yet to make a major-league appearance. But, again, his inclusion on the list is mandatory.
That's because Neal is yet another 36th-round draft pick and he seems closer to making good on his considerable potential than Downs. Plus, he's still a Giant; the 23-year-old tore up Double-A in 2010 and has been making waves as a rostered invitee to spring training.
Another reason to draw late-round optimism from Neal's profile is the fact that he has distinguished himself using largely the same assets that Scoma boasts.
Thomas is a little faster and has a some extra years under his pro belt, but both youngsters can handle the lumber and appear to be plus defenders in the outfield.
Consequently, if Neal can do it, there's no reason to believe Scoma cannot.
The Trailblazers—Travis Ishikawa, 21st Round
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Now we're into it.
Travis Ishikawa didn't have to wait quite as long as Ryan Scoma to hear his name called during the draft, but he didn't exactly come flying off the board. The defensive specialist at first base was selected with the 637th pick in the 21st round of the 2002 draft.
And he's the only 21st rounder who eventually made it to The Show.
Again, Ishi isn't on the express route to the Hall of Fame and he's probably not gonna make any All-Star teams unless something really wild happens, but you never know.
Furthermore, I'm thinking quite a few in the audience would settle for a nice, long career in Major League Baseball spent as a late-inning specialist or pinch-hitter.
After all, Travis is still getting a fat paycheck to play baseball.
There are worse fates.
The Trailblazers—Sergio Romo, 28th Round
Al Bello/Getty Images
To borrow an analogy from baseball—we're getting closer to the sweet spot.
Although Sergio Romo is "only" a setup man, he's a damn fine one when he's on and not spinning hangers up to the dish in close ballgames.
Oh, and there's the little matter of being a key contributor on a World Series champion. So maybe Romo's individual accolades could take on a glossier hue, but his resume already features the pinnacle of team achievement thanks in no small part to his efforts.
Not too bad for a 28th-round pick (852nd player selected) from the 2005 draft.
Think there might be a few first-rounders who'd like a taste of that champagne?
The Trailblazers—Jonathan Sanchez, 27th Round
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Many close observers of the San Francisco staff call Jonathan Sanchez the most unhittable arm in a rotation bristling with filth...for good reason.
When he's throwing darts, he absolutely IS the filthiest dirt merchant in Orange and Black as evidenced by the opposition's .204 batting average against Dirty Dirty in 2010. The problems—obvious to anyone who's seen three consecutive Sanchez starts—are his maddening inconsistency and apparently fragile concentration.
But the package typically doesn't come without warts when it's unwrapped after 819 picks in the 27th round.
Those warts notwithstanding, Sanchez has managed to emerge from his humble beginnings to lock down a top-four spot in arguably the best rotation in baseball and help said rotation power its way to a World Series title.
Considering that Scoma's ugliest protuberances are his draft slot and the absence of hype, I'd say that qualifies as excellent news.
Granted, it would help if Ryan could break 90 MPH with deceptive arm movement from the south side, but details, details...
The Trailblazers—Brian Wilson, 24th Round
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Always remember, the Man Who Would Be Mayor started off as just another 24th-round scrub trying to make the bigs. After Tommy John surgery robbed him of career momentum during his senior year at LSU, Brian Wilson was forced to put the pieces back together and made his major-league debut by hook or by crook.
Since then, things have gone decidedly more smoothly.
The flamboyant flamethrower took the closer reins almost immediately upon his promotion and hasn't looked back. The peripheral stats were grotesque at first, but that save percentage has always been in 85 percent neighborhood or north (i.e. very good).
In 2010, everything clicked and Wilson's star went supernova as the Giants celebrated their first World Series title in over 50 years.
So, yeah, there's hope for those drafted without the glitz and glam.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that the Major League Baseball draft is just a starting point and journeys of varying lengths begin in each round.
It also means that, in the harsh light of reality, the odds are not with Ryan Scoma or anyone else drafted so late.
But the odds were not with Scoma out of high school. They weren't with him when he landed at the College of San Mateo and they weren't with him when he suited up for UC Davis.
Considering the success that followed at each of those stops, I bet Ryan stopped paying attention to those odds a while ago.
And not a moment too soon.
I'd like to extend a very sincere debt of gratitude to Ryan Scoma and his family.
Ryan and I sat down for a phone interview several months ago, but the finished product wasn't published until now due to my evolving schedule and the sports calendar. Consequently, I owe Ryan a huge 'thank you' for taking time to talk with me (time that I'm sure he'd rather be spending hacking) and to all the Scomas for their patience while this came together.
As before, Ryan was extremely candid and forthcoming with information while providing thoughtful answers to my prepared questions.
Again, here's to seeing him in Orange and Black sooner rather than later.