Patience Pays Off For Ryan Aguilar
For a moment late last summer, Ryan Aguilar thought he’d played his final baseball game. The 31st round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers had a rough 2021 season with Double-A Biloxi and was released by the team that drafted him last August after hitting .146 in 74 games. A
For a moment late last summer, Ryan Aguilar thought he’d played his final baseball game.
The 31st round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers had a rough 2021 season with Double-A Biloxi and was released by the team that drafted him last August after hitting .146 in 74 games. A six-year professional career was on the line for the 27-year-old that grew up in California.
“I definitely thought my career was over,” he said. “But with that being said, I knew I still had a lot left in this game. I hit the pause button, got a little depressed, and weighed out the options. After a month or two I decided to play independent ball. As I was getting ready to play there, I got a call from the Angels and the rest is history.”
With that, Aguilar went to Arizona this spring with the Angels, the team he watched the most as a child. Putting on the famous Halo A hat in a Major League spring training game was a long way from Angel Stadium, where an eight-year-old Aguilar got Reggie Jackson’s autograph at an Angels playoff game against the Yankees in 2002.
“There’s only one word I can describe that as, fate,” he said of suiting up for the Angels.
The journey to the Angels was a big test of his perseverance, and the 2022 season would be another step on the trials and tribulations of Aguilar’s career. Assigned to the Trash Pandas, Aguilar got off to a start reminiscent of his 2021 season, hitting .175 with just two RBI in his first 13 games in Rocket City. Through the struggles, he never changed his approach, and the results soon followed.
“I’m right on the dish. Anything inside to me is going to be a ball. It’s very hard to throw one inside and dot the corner. I’m looking middle away, but before two strikes if the ball is not middle away, I’m going to take it,” he said of his plate mentality. “If it’s outside, it’s going to be a ball and if it’s inside, it could be a strike, but more than likely it’s a ball. I’m sitting in my zone and if it’s not in there, I’m not swinging. I’ve always had a good eye, and I’m trusting it more than ever now.”
With that mindset, Aguilar is now in the midst of a renaissance season. Following a road series against his former team in Biloxi, he is currently leading the Southern League with a .425 on-base percentage and .927 OPS, leading the team and ranking fourth with 62 walks, and has the team lead with 14 home runs, a new career-high while his .278 average is also the best in his six-season career.
Some highlights for Aguilar include two home runs in a win over Mississippi on July 11, taking a Trash Pandas record five walks in a game during a win at Tennessee on July 2, and most importantly, being a part of the first-half North Division Championship team that will compete in the Southern League Playoffs in September.
“That was beautiful. I lost the high school championship and the College World Series. I haven’t won a championship in a long time,” he said. “To come to a team like the Trash Pandas and win the first half with my teammates like we did was special for me because there was a point in time in my recent past where I didn’t think I was going to feel that.”
While the pain of being released in 2021 was an eye-opener for Aguilar, the year 2020 was the first experience that showed him the insecurity in the game. Coming off a strong 2019 season, Aguilar was ranked as a top prospect in the Brewers’ system. In March 2020, the pandemic put an end to the Minor League season, giving Aguilar time to reflect.
“It goes down to this quote I go by, ‘Be thankful for the opportunity and play for the moment. Always be present, and don’t take anything for granted.’ As a 31st round draft pick, each year has been year by year. I haven’t had any security blanket,” he said. “The main thing that helped me is that I’m Ryan Aguilar the person, not just the baseball player.”
The renewed passion, coupled with the ups and downs of the past few years, have Aguilar in as good of a place as any as the Trash Pandas look to remain hot heading toward the postseason.
“I don’t take anything for granted in this game anymore. I play the game the only way I know how and that’s because I believe that any day could be your last playing this game,” he said. “It’s a privilege to play this game. Be grateful for the opportunity you’re given and stay in the present.”