Opening Opportunity’s Knock: An Interview with Ryan Dorow
Arguably, the best position player on the Hickory Crawdads team to this point of the 2018 season is a guy who was a 30th-round pick and played in only four of the team’s first 11 games.
Notice that I didn’t say the Crawdads position player who is the best prospect, or the Crawdads position player that has the most talented physical tools on the team.
When describing infielder Ryan Dorow, Crawdads manager Matt Hagen had this assessment.
“As a guy that you put in the lineup up against the wall, his physicality doesn’t jump out at you,” said Hagen. “But he’s got more baseball player inside of him than most guys do.”
After the demotion of outfielder Miguel Aparicio, the subsequent shift of players landed Dorow at third with Tyler Ratliff moving from there to right. Dorow went 1-for-4 that night, which put his slash line at that time to .239/.308/.394, the low point of the season. A two-hit night followed. The next night, he collected four more and a on-base streak grew to 20 games that ended on June 30. The slash line at that point grew to .302/.367/.456.
After Saturday’s game (7/21/18), Dorow ranks eighth in the South Atlantic League in batting avg. (.294), 11th in on-base percentage (.362), 15th in slugging (.455) and 13th in OPS (.817). After going homerless in his debut pro season, he is tied for the team lead with 10. Dorow is also the team leader in hits, RBI and total bases, as well as batting avg. and slugging. In the field, he’s been a steady presence at second, short and third with just seven errors over 83 games.
At 22 years, 11 months old, Ryan Dorow is older than the 21.3 years league avg. for position players (baseballreference.com). As a 30th rounder from Division III Adrian (Mich.) College, he knows he’s not necessarily held in the highest regard as far as future major-league prospects go. For that matter, when he entered this season, he understood that he might not get a lot of playing time. But he’s doing what he is supposed to do: hit and play solid defense. In the minors, it’s about becoming necessary. Dorow has done that.
However, he knows as he moves up the ladder, he will have to compete and prove himself over and over again. Hagen thinks that is a situation that will bode well for Dorow.
“I think he knows that and I think he relishes that,” said Hagen. “He is in the position of an underdog. Some guys are really good in that role, when their backs are against the wall and they come out swinging. He’s probably had to prove himself at every level of baseball he’s ever played. This is no different, so if he wants to play, he has to go out and perform. That’s probably been a gift for him in the past, because some of the guys at this level, they’ve always been so good that they haven’t had to go out there and prove it every day.”
The ability to compete was certainly there for Dorow at Adrian, and especially the summer leagues, where he particularly got noticed. In the following interview done a couple of weeks ago, Dorow talked about the journey of realizing he could play pro ball, and how that drive has continued into a strong first full-season as a pro.
You’ve had quite a run here. What’s been the spark for you? You were up and down until you got to about the tenth of June and then you’ve hit a hot streak.
Dorow: I think just going in and having good at-bats is the best thing. I think being able to continue to have good at-bats for an extended period of time is kind of what takes out where the success comes from. Being able to be consistent through a long period of time sure is what we all aim to do. That’s kind of what I’ve been able to do for the past month, month-and-a-half.
When I talked with (Crawdads manager) Matt (Hagen) at the beginning of the season and was just sort of going through the list of players with Pedro and Miguel, this guy and this guy, I asked him to give me someone under the radar. Without hesitation he mentioned yourself and Justin (Jacobs). Sometimes guys will say that as sort of a window dressing, but you’ve made him look really good. What was your mind set coming into this season?
Dorow: I knew I wasn’t going to be in a starting role right away. That’s just for the position I’m in, and I’m very thankful to be in the position I’m in now. Going in, it was just to take every day and do what you can do every day. There’s no real pressure and there’s no set of expectations besides myself to go out there and play well. I just took it day by day, and whatever opportunity came upon me I was going to try my best to take advantage of it.
What did you think you brought to the field coming into the season? When you were put into the lineup, what was your expectation?
Dorow: No real expectation, just go on out there and just try to play to the best of my ability that day. Baseball is an up-and-down game and you can never go out there on a consistent basis, no matter how good you are, and be successful every day for 140 games, which is not realistic. I talked to myself and brought it upon myself to make sure that I was ready to play every game. If the opportunity presented itself to be on the field, then I’m going to be out there and take full advantage of it.
You pretty much put yourself into a starting role – a lot at shortstop and you’ll move around at second and third. How did you see that come about for you as things progressed into late-April and May, where you name is getting into the lineup every day?
Dorow: That sure does help me. Being able to play three positions does help me. That’s my role. That’s what I bring to the team, is you can put me at short, second, third and you know what you’re going to get out of me. I knew that was going to be a possibility. I had played short at school and I had played second in the AZL (Arizona Rookie League) last year, so I knew going in that was a possibility. I worked to make sure that I was good at each position and knew everything I needed to do on a daily basis to be successful at any point in time.
Is there a higher confidence level at this point of the season than there was at the start, that you were going to get the playing time needed to show what you could do?
Dorow: I had confidence. I mean, I know that I can play. That’s not really a downfall, by any means. I just think I was able to get into a groove. That’s what happens, being able to play in an every day lineup and get in a groove and get continuous at-bats. I think that was the biggest thing for me.
I knew coming in that I may not be an everyday guy and I was fine with not being an everyday guy. I enjoy being here, and if that was my role, if I was playing every day and that was my role I’m fine, and if I was playing every third day and that’s my role, I was fine. If that’s what the team needs and that’s what we need to do to be successful, then I’m willing to do anything.
It’s not a confidence level, I think. I have pretty much the same confidence level now than I had when I got in. We didn’t know what my role was going to be at the beginning. Now, it’s kind of fitting into place a little bit, and I’m just trying to go out there and play my best every day and help the team win.
Do you get the younger guys coming up to you and Justin and the other college guys and seeing you in a mentor role? You’ve been through the four years of college, where you’ve had to muck and grind and all of that. Do you see yourself more in that leadership role being in the lineup every day?
Dorow: I would like to think of it like that. I think that us four, or however many of the college guys that are here in the rotation or position players, I think we do a pretty good job of leading by example. Leading by example is probably one of the most important things when you have a young team. We had talked about it all the time, when you don’t have leaders on a young team, it’s very hard to sustain success. I think leading by example and finding the time to be a vocal leader, and sometimes finding the time to step back and take a breath and just let things roll, is kind of the way we’ve been doing it.
Yeah, I would like to think of myself as a leader on the team. If I’m not out there playing, I lead by example on the bench.
You went to Adrian (Mich.) College?
Not many Division III products come out and even get to this level. At what point did you think, I’ve got a shot at getting drafted, or at least getting an opportunity?
Dorow: When I came in, that was probably the last thing on my mind, to be honest. I kind of blossomed my freshman year and kind of grew into the baseball player that I came to be. Like you said, not many people get the opportunity to play professional baseball. Every year, there’s a very small group of people that come from a Division III level to play pro baseball. It’s a blessing to get the opportunity.
I started figuring out probably halfway through my sophomore year that it could be a possibility. I mean, I wasn’t throwing all my cookies in the let’s-get-drafted jar, by any means, but I knew that could be something in the future that was going to happen. I’m blessed enough to be here today.
Was there a moment or a series of moments in that sophomore year where you thought, “this could blossom into something”?
Dorow: Going out and playing in the summer leagues that I played in sure helped me realize that I could compete at a higher level. Being around the people that I was at Adrian College, the coaching staff and players, they all helped me. My sophomore year really was the time when they were like, “Wow, he can play at the next level. There’s something special here.” Me being the humble guy that I am, I was kicking it to the side. I was like, “Hopefully, you never know. We’ll see what happens.” So, it was the sophomore or junior year where I was like, “This could be a realization, or it could not be.” Like I said, I wasn’t putting all the cookies in the let’s-get-drafted jar, but at the same time, that was my goal: to work as hard as I could to be in this position I am now.
Where did you play in Summer League?
Dorow: Northwoods League, my junior summer, and then out in New York in the Perfect Game League my sophomore summer.
Who were some players you played against that made you think, “I can match up here”?
Dorow: (Tyler) Ratliff played in the same league I played in a year later than me. I really don’t know names that I played with off that top of my head. Ro Coleman from Vanderbilt, I played against him my junior year. I’m not really comparing myself to anybody, but I was able to see that I could compete at that level. That was the biggest thing for me. I wasn’t going out there and saying, “Wow, I’m better than this guy.” I was just going out there and setting my skills up to anybody else’s. I could play at that level.
That was the biggest thing for me, was realizing that I could play at that level and had the confidence in myself to play at that level. I think the summer leagues did a lot for me.
I remember having a lot of this same sort of conversation with Ryan Rua when he was here. For his case, at Lake Erie nobody necessarily knew him, but he got to this summer league team versus somebody from Vanderbilt or Virginia, or wherever. Did the summer leagues become an equalizer for you?
Dorow: There was definitely a lot more eyes, pro scout wise, in those leagues. There’s scouts all over the place every game. The biggest thing at Adrian was getting people to come out and watch. That was the biggest thing. I’d get a ton of emails and letters and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, I don’t think those translated into coming out and watching all that time. You’re playing in those leagues and getting out of your comfort zone and maybe traveling a little bit, or getting into a position where you don’t know if you’re going to be successful, especially coming out of a small school, kind of lets you know where you’re at. I think those were a huge, huge time in my life to help me get where I am today.
After the summer leagues, did you start getting some visits to Adrian?
Dorow: There was some people my sophomore year that came around to watch, but I wasn’t really in contact with many people. Everything started to roll when I came back for my senior year and a lot of them said, “Hey, I saw you play with the Battle Creek Bombers (Northwoods League)” So, a lot of that did stem from playing in the summer leagues. A lot of the contacts and eye-opening experiences were coming from those leagues.
Was there anybody at Adrian, or anywhere else you played – you’re competing against player B – was there somebody that you had a conversation with, a coach or somebody, that furthered your interest in playing pro ball? It’s nice to have feedback from somebody else that helps you say, I can do this?
Dorow: Absolutely. Competing wise, there’s a bunch of kids that I competed against that are awesome baseball players, even at the D-3 level. Going back and talking about school and stuff, I think the biggest part was understanding what could be. Sometimes, you sit back, and you come from a small school, and there’s a long shot and it’s never going to happen.
I think with coach Craig Rainey – he’s been there for 25 years – and he knows when he sees good talent. My dad and him actually were actually roommates at Adrian together, so he’s been a family friend for a while. He always used to come up to me and was the most positive, and he’d try to explain to me how good I was at the time. I didn’t know. I was 18, 19-years-old just kind of going through the motions my first year at school, like a lot of freshman are just trying to get their feet wet.
I think the coaching staff and the people around me really implemented in my mental side how good I could be. That’s all kudos for that.
What was the first pro moment you that said, “Ok, this is a different game, now”?
Dorow: I think going back to the AZL, the speed game was a little. It wasn’t crazy to get used to, but obviously it was a little quicker than Division III baseball. That’s just the honest opinion. Going down there, and playing, and having people that could really run, that could get to the ball fast, that could really hit, the pace of the game was quicker than I was used to.
That was the biggest thing, where I was like, “Ok, I’ve got to really focus in and get everything that I do right, so mistakes don’t happen, or just not being ready to play, or not being ready to be able to catch up to the pace of play, which I think was my biggest eye opener.
And the young talent, too, is the best. I realized how much young talent is out there compared to a lot of 20, 21, 22-year-olds that I played against. They were good, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a lot of 17, 18-year-olds that can play the game, as well.
Who was the first 17, 18-year-old that impressed you?
Dorow: I actually went around with Chris Seise. He’s really impressed me a lot. The maturity level, the baseball IQ, it was very impressive to see a kid that was just playing high school baseball 15 days ago come in and be very competitive at a professional level right away.
What are you looking forward to going up to High-A at some point?
Dorow: Just looking forward to continue to go up the ladder. I want to win, that’s the biggest thing. Winning is a big part of why I play the game. I want to continue to win at every level that I’m at. I think we’re off to a good start here in the second half, and really could make some runs and get some things to fall into place. I want to continue to build that culture throughout and bring people with me that don’t already have that onto levels to build that success as we go up.
Looking forward to competing again when you get to High-A?
Dorow: Absolutely. Always.
What’s the next step for you development wise?
Dorow: I think just being consistent. Everybody can say they can get better at something. Those things might not be at the top of your head, and you may not even know those things at that moment in time. I think the biggest thing for me is consistency. Being able to think, I’ve gotten better this year than I was last year at being consistent and coming out ready to play every day. I think that’s something I can continue to work on. Playing 140 games, you have to be consistent. You have to be able to wash things away.
You get the call to the major leagues, what does that mean for you and who do you call?
Dorow: A dream come true. First, I’ll probably call my dad and my family back home. My dad’s been there. He’s coached me since I was one-year-old until I was 17 before I went to college. That’d be an amazing call to have. And then probably my fiancée. She’s been unreal to me support wise – traveling and all the miles that she’s put on her vehicle to come watch me play. I couldn’t ask for anything more from her. Then probably my college coach, Craig Rainey at Adrian College. He was very good to me at schoo,l and very good to me to put me in a spot to be successful, and I owe everything to him for putting me into the position I’m at right now.