The Oakland A's 2012 draft class has already had a big impact on the organization. Top pick Addison Russell is the organization's consensus best prospect. Fifth-round pick Max Muncy led the California League in homeruns for the first half of the season and was recently promoted to Double-A. The A's Low-A Beloit Snappers squad, made up primarily of 2012 draft picks, has been one of the best teams in the Midwest League all season. And so on.
The A's 2012 draft class has produced several promising relief arms. One of the most promising of those relief prospects is right-hander Ryan Dull. A little-known senior sign out of UNC-Asheville, Dull has dominated every level he has pitched at since turning pro last June.
After a distinguished four-year career at UNC-Asheville, Dull was selected by the A's in the 32nd round last season. He was initially assigned to the Arizona Rookie League, but it quickly became apparent that he was too advanced for that level. After 6.1 innings and 13 strike-outs, Dull jumped to the New York-Penn League, where he would spend the rest of the 2012 season. In 25.1 innings for the Vermont Lake Monsters, Dull posted a 2.84 ERA and a 34:6 K:BB ratio. Between the two short-season levels, Dull had a 2.56 ERA and a 47:9 K:BB ratio 31.2 innings.
This season, Dull has been even better. After adding a third pitch during fall Instructs, Dull took the Midwest League by storm. In 20 appearances for the Low-A Beloit Snappers this season, Dull posted a 2.10 ERA and saved 12 games. He struck-out 35 and walked only three in 25.2 innings. Midwest League batters hit only .176 against him.
Not long after appearing in the Midwest League All-Star game, Dull was promoted to High-A Stockton. The California League is often a place where promising pitchers meet their first major stumbling blocks, but Dull has thus far handled the jump with relative ease. In 10 appearances for the Ports, Dull has a 1.29 ERA and four saves. In 14 innings, he has 23 strike-outs and just one walk. Dull has allowed just six hits in those 14 innings and he recently had a three-inning stint during which he didn't allow a hit and he struck-out seven.
Dull's command has put him in elite company around minor league baseball. He currently ranks 10th amongst all minor league pitchers with at least 33 innings pitched in K/BB with a 14.50 mark. He also ranks 23rd in all of minor league baseball in K/9 (13.2) and first in all of minor league baseball in WHIP (0.655).
Dull came into minor league baseball with a low-90s fastball and an above-average change-up. With the improving slider, Dull has three legitimate weapons when he needs an out.
We recently spoke with the right-hander about his transition to the Cal League, his philosophy on throwing strikes, his work on the slider and more…
OaklandClubhouse: How are you feeling physically now that you are past the halfway point of your first full professional season?
Ryan Dull: I can feel it a little bit because it has been a long grind this season, but overall my body feels good enough to finish off the season.
OC: You were a starter for most of your college career and made the move to the bullpen last season when you turned pro. How has that transition gone for you? Do you like being in the bullpen or would you like a chance to start again if you could?
RD: I feel like I have transitioned pretty well. I like being in the bullpen. It gives me an opportunity to actually see how we approach hitters differently with different pitchers. It also gives me an advantage because I might only face a line-up maybe once and that way they won't see me more than once. It helps disguise my pitches a little better. I am happy with whatever Oakland wants me to do right now.
OC: You developed a third pitch during Instructs, a slider. How has that pitch been working for you this season? Have you been able to use it as much as your fastball and your change-up?
RD: I have. Gil [Patterson, former A's minor league pitching coordinator] worked on many grips to improve the consistency of it during Instructs and then I took that home with me and kept working on it during the off-season. I feel like I have been able to use it when I have been in tight jams and I have been able to use it to get ahead of hitters now. I use it even as a strike-out pitch now.
OC: Do you feel like it is more effective against right-handers or left-handers, or do you use it against both?
RD: I have used it against both so far this year, but I have used it more against righties.
OC: What would you say your go-to pitch is?
RD: Either my fastball or my change-up. Depends more on the situation, but I have been able to use both pretty well.
OC: You have one of the biggest spreads between strike-outs and walks in professional baseball right now (14.50 K/BB, 10th best in all of the minor leagues). When you come into a game, are you consciously thinking about not walking batters or are you just naturally a strike-thrower?
RD: I really don't consciously think about not walking people. I'm just pretty aggressive in the strike-zone. Also hitters sometimes get themselves out early in the count. My goal is just to get ahead of hitters as quickly as I can and stay ahead of them throughout the at-bat. That way you avoid walking more people.
OC: There has been a lot of talk about whether there is a difference between pitching in the ninth inning or in the seventh or eighth inning of a very close game. Do you feel a difference when you are pitching for a save in the ninth as compared to when you are protecting a lead in a game in the seventh or eighth that is close?
RD: I feel like at that point in the game, I think all of the outs are hard to come by, especially if you are winning. I would say the ninth inning is a little bit harder. My college coach always told me that the three hardest outs to get are the last three.
OC: You made the jump from the Midwest League to the Cal League just after All-Star break. There is a big difference in the reputation between the two leagues in terms of the hitting and pitching environments. Have you noticed a big difference between the Cal League and the Midwest League thus far?
RD: I have noticed a big difference so far. I have seen routine flyballs go out of the park now. You have to be a little more conscious of if you are going to miss, where you are going to miss. You have to be more conscious of keeping the ball down.
OC: Are you looking for more groundballs in this league than you were in the Midwest League?
RD: Yes, definitely. I'm more conscious of trying to get more groundball outs here rather than flyball outs.
OC: What are your goals for the last six weeks or so of the season?
RD: Just to stay healthy and be as consistent as I have been so far for the rest of the season.