Small town country boy Merritt looking to make it big with Indians
Ryan Merritt may be a self-described “country boy” from a small town in Texas, but the talented left-hander has made a name for himself and now hopes to make it all the way to the big city of Cleveland.
Growing up in Celina, a town with a population of just over 6,000, Merritt spent countless hours playing catch with his older brothers, Joseph and Wes.
“They would force me all the time to go out and throw, but I didn’t mind,” Merritt said.
What started as a bonding experience with his brothers quickly turned into a life-long passion. Merritt was second team all-state in Texas coming out of high school and found success in his first year at McLennan Community College. A college ERA of 1.23 and a knack for getting batters to strike out sparked interest in the young southpaw.
“I had a couple teams calling me,” Merritt explained. “The draft was always in the back of my mind.”
Fortunately for Ryan and the Mudcats, the Indians made the call on draft day and selected him in the 16th round of the 2011 draft. Merritt has since been rising through the Indians farm system and has assimilated nicely in Carolina.
“I feel like I fit in well,” Merritt said. “Like the fans and everything kind of have the same accent. You can tell they are laid back country folks.”
After having cruised through high school and college batting orders, Merritt has had to adapt to the rigors of the professional game. Discussing some of the differences in the level of play between college and the minors, Merritt jokingly stated that “they hit it a lot harder and a lot farther.”
“In college, you might have a seven, eight, nine guy that usually you could get out pretty easy, but in professional ball, every guy can hit and hurt you at any time,” Merritt said. “You really have to be a lot smarter throughout the game.”
In four minor league seasons, Merritt has pitched well and continued to move up through the Indian’s farm system. For his career, Merritt has recorded 161 strikeouts to only 44 walks.
Through three starts this season, Merritt (2-0) has an ERA of 0.52 and has only allowed one earned run in 17.1 innings of play. Opposing hitters have a meager .164 batting average against him and are rarely given a free pass.
Merritt’s early season success has helped the Carolina Mudcats to an 8-7 record and a share of first place in the Carolina League’s Southern Division.
This has some viewing Merritt as one of the best prospects on the Mudcat’s roster.
“Obviously, as an orginzation, we love Ryan," Mudcats pitching coach Steve Karsay said. "He’s got a good three pitch mix and he really competes out there."
"He has a really good change-up that he uses effectively throughout outings and he can locate very well and throw his fastball to both sides of the plate,” Karsay added.
When Ryan isn’t toeing the rubber, he likes to fish and hunt on his land back in Texas; but don’t tell Carolina’s mascot, Muddy the Mudcat. Fishing has taught Merritt patience which has guided his journey through the minor league system and has helped him during his offseason workouts.
“My goal is to be a Major League Baseball player and win games for my team," Merritt said, realizing his long journey ahead of him. "I’m going to learn that and develop here in Carolina."
Merritt’s work-ethic and training regimen have had a big impact on his pitching during the 2014 campaign.
“In the offseason I was just working out hard every day, not taking days off," Merritt said. "When you need to get into the weight room and lift, you have to get in there and lift. It’s really paid off for me."
Karsay has been tracking Merritt’s progression for two years now and acknowledged his valuable combination of hard-work and talent.
“Ryan is a hard-worker; he comes in day-in day-out and does what he needs to do in the weight room," Karsay said. "We just want to continue his progression through our system and through his development.”
So on a hot, long country day in late August, don’t be surprised to see Ryan Merritt pitching a gem and leading the Mudcats to victory. He hopes that, like a great old fisherman, if he just stays patient, he’ll reach his goals and bring his team along for the ride.
Daniel is a communication and broadcast media major at North Carolina State University.