In June of 2002, the annual draft of amateur players featured 1,482 selections. Of those 1,482 players drafted, a total of 155 were catchers. When the draft was concluded, a young catcher from Division II Rollins College in Florida was still hoping for an opportunity to continue his career, but it would have to be as a non-drafted free agent, for his name had not been called.
Eleven years later, that young catcher has seven seasons of Major League experience. He has caught two big league no-hitters, started playoff games, and his total of 474 Major League games played is more than all but three of the 155 catchers that were drafted in 2002. He was a Midwest League All-Star with the Dayton Dragons in 2003 and later became the 22nd Dragons player to play in the Major Leagues. He is big league catcher Ryan Hanigan.
In the spring of 2002, Hanigan's team at Rollins College in Florida enjoyed a successful season, finishing 16th in the final NCAA Division II poll. The baseball program at Rollins dated all the way back to 1895 and eight alums had gone on to play in the Major Leagues over the school's 108 years of baseball, most notably John Castino, the 1979 American League Rookie of the Year with the Minnesota Twins. After being passed over in the draft, Hanigan joined the Orleans Cardinals of the Cape Cod League, where he was chosen as his team's Most Valuable Player and scouted by the Reds. On August 23, 2002, with one week to go in the Minor League season, the Reds signed Hanigan to a professional contract and assigned him to the Dragons. He appeared in six games prior to the end of the 2002 season.
Hanigan returned to the Dragons in 2003, initially as the team's back-up catcher before earning the starting job and playing in the MWL All-Star Game. He finished the year at .277 in 92 games and showed solid defensive skills behind the plate.
Hanigan moved on to the Carolina League in 2004 and posted a 22-game hitting streak, the longest in the league that season. He hit .296 in 119 games and earned a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga for 2005. With the Lookouts, Hanigan hit .321 to rank second in the Southern League and was rewarded with a non-roster invitation to Major League spring training with the Reds in '06.
Hanigan spent most of 2006 back in Chattanooga and opened the 2007 season there as well. At the end of June, 2007, he was hitting .299 and earned a promotion to Triple-A Louisville. That September, he was called to the big leagues by the Reds. His Major League debut featured a pinch hit double against Milwaukee on September 9. He went 3 for 10 (.300) for the Reds that season.
Hanigan was back at Louisville to start 2008 and was the International League's all-star catcher, batting .324. He was also selected by Baseball America as the league's top defensive catcher and on August 10, he was promoted once again to Cincinnati. He started 25 of the Reds last 44 games that season as Cincinnati went 14-11 with Hanigan behind the plate. He hit .271 with a pair of home runs.
Hanigan spent almost all of 2009 with the Reds and led National League catchers in fielding percentage. He also threw out an outstanding 39 percent of opposing base stealers. He batted .263. In 2010, Hanigan split time with Ramon Hernandez at the catcher position and hit a career high .300 in 70 games. He also started game two of the National League Division Series against the Phillies.
Hanigan saw his playing time increase again in 2011, appearing in 91 games while batting .267 and connecting on six home runs. Then in 2012, he hit .274 in 112 games for the Reds. He also started four of the team's five playoff games. Hanigan threw out 49 percent of opposing base stealers to lead the National League (the league average was 27 percent). On September 28, he was behind the plate for Homer Bailey's no-hitter, the first for a Reds pitcher since 1988.
In 2013, Hanigan caught Bailey's second career no-hitter and was the Reds starting catcher in their playoff matchup with the Pirates. Injuries limited him to just 75 games and he batted .198 but threw out 45 percent of attempted base stealers, enjoying another outstanding year defensively.
On November 12, 2013, the Reds signed veteran free agent catcher Brayan Pena. The addition of Pena to the roster, coupled with the return of 25-year-old former Dragon Devin Mesoraco, gave the Reds three catchers with two spots available. On December 3, Hanigan was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team deal that brought starting pitching prospect David Holmberg to Cincinnati from Arizona.
In a story at mlb.com by Mark Sheldon, Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty discussed the deal.
"This gives Mesoraco the opportunity to develop into a No. 1, frontline catcher that we think he can be," Jocketty said. "Pena will be a quality backup and good bat off of the bench. It gives Devin the chance for more playing time."
"It was tough to trade Hanigan," Jocketty said. "It got to the point where we had one year before he became a free agent. Sometimes, you have to make some tough business decisions you don't like to make. Hani did terrific job for this organization. Everybody really likes him as a person, as well as a player. We also tried to keep in mind places where he might want to play. I know Tampa was an area. They had interest in him for a couple of years. Hopefully this works out well for him."
Hanigan is now 33 years old and has beaten the odds facing every non-drafted free agent to not only play in the Major Leagues, but to also enjoy a sustained career in which he has improved to the point of becoming a trusted starter at his position. He has continued to improve as the seasons have gone by, meeting every challenge.
"He had to make his own opportunities, and he has," comments Mark Katz of the Dayton Daily News.
In a story by Hal McCoy at foxsportsohio.com, Reds former Reds manager Dusty Baker summed up Hanigan's climb. "He didn't have any money invested in him so he had to impress and he still had to wait his turn," Baker said. "He had to jump over some guys, but I liked him the first day I saw him in camp."
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Click Here for Ryan Hanigan's Minor League Statistics