Despite playing four years as a shortstop and pitcher at Amherst Steele High School in Amherst, Ohio, Ryan Rua did not receive much attention by the time of his graduation. No Major League team called his name in the 2008 Draft and no Division I schools gave him more than a glance.
A handful of NAIA and Division III programs expressed tepid interest before Rua decided to accept the opportunity to attend Ohio's Lake Erie College under head coach Brian McGee.
"Going there gave me the opportunity to play right away as a freshman," Rua said. "I got a lot of innings under my belt and that helped me grow a lot as a player. Coming out of high school, I was smaller; my body hadn't matured like some other guys. The program was moving up to Division II, and it proved to be a great decision for me."
After three solid years playing mostly at shortstop at Lake Erie, Rua was drafted in the 17th round in 2011 by the Texas Rangers. He wound up spending most of his first professional season in the Arizona League and batted at a .321 clip with three home runs and 34 RBIs. Rua then reported to instructional league before starting the 2012 campaign in extended Spring Training.
It was during those stints that he began to work with current Hickory hitting coach Justin Mashore, who helped alter the second baseman's approach at the plate.
"Justin has really helped me focus on not getting beat with the fastball," said Rua, who ranked seventh in the Northwest League by hitting .293 with seven home runs and 43 RBIs with Spokane in 2012. "He's helped me with my approach by not trying to muscle it out but attacking the ball by letting my hands do the work and getting the barrel out in front and getting good pitches to hit."
The results thus far in 2013 have been nothing short of remarkable. Rua entered Wednesday's games leading the Minor Leagues with 24 round-trippers even though the Crawdads play their home games at LP Frans Stadium, which is not known as a homer haven. He also paces the South Atlantic League with 64 RBIs and 46 extra-base hits and ranks second with 158 total bases, third with a .617 slugging percentage and fifth with 54 runs scored.
"So far everything has gone well this season," Rua said. "It's nice to see the work we've put in pay off, not just for me, but for the team as a whole. The power, I think, has always been there. It's just been a matter of figuring out my swing and getting a good feel for it."
Though his batting average has hovered around the .250 mark, he's still striking out at a rate in line with his career norms, as he has 68 K's in his first 256 at-bats. He has a good eye at the plate, resulting in 35 walks, and is driving the ball to all fields, with 46 of his first 63 hits going for extra bases, a major spike in power relative to his previous Minor League stops.
Rua is the first to admit he needs to improve with his overall consistency but is pleased with the progress he has made so far this season.
"I just need to continue to put the work in and get better, not only offensively but defensively as well," Rua said. "Getting off to a good start takes a little bit of pressure off me and everyone else on the team. Being a part of such a great offensive team helps everyone relax. Our group in Hickory is an unbelievable group of hitters with guys like [Joey] Gallo, [Nick] Williams, [Jorge] Alfaro and [Lewis] Brinson. It's a credit to all of the guys and the work we have put in so far."
Agosta hits wall: After throwing seven innings in his previous four starts and pitching one frame in the SAL All-Star Game, Augusta right-hander Martin Agosta lasted only one inning on June 22 while walking two batters, hitting two and allowing a two-run single. Manager Mike Goff told the Augusta Chronicle that Agosta was experiencing a dead arm and indicated some rest might be on the agenda. "When a guy is a couple miles an hour down, it's no big deal," Goff told the newspaper. "When it's six or seven, something isn't right. If we've got to give him a start or two off, so be it."
No lead safe at NewBridge: The Asheville Tourists learned the hard way that no lead can be considered safe at Greensboro's NewBridge Bank Park. On June 24, the Tourists jumped out to a 9-0 advantage midway through the fifth before the Grasshoppers rallied back to win the game, 11-10. Jesus Solorzano hit a three-run homer to cut the lead to 9-5 in bottom of the fifth and Yordy Cabrera later added a three-run shot in the seventh to take the lead.
Bridwell in a rhythm: Delmarva starter Parker Bridwell scattered seven hits and a walk over 6 2/3 scoreless innings to lead the Shorebirds to a 2-0 victory over Asheville on June 22. In his last two starts, Bridwell has allowed 10 hits and one run over 14 2/3 innings while striking out 17 batters and walking one. He also has lowered his ERA from 6.22 to 5.04.