For his first two years at Mississippi State, Ryan Gridley struggled to make it through a full season. Playing with a bone chip in his left knee, Gridley was unable to add much lower body strength in the weightroom. After getting the chip removed before his junior season, Gridley not only put together his best collegiate season but he has also had the strength to finish strong in his professional debut season.
The A’s went heavy on middle of the diamond position players during the first two days of the 2017 MLB draft, and they began Day Three with another up-the-middle talent in Gridley, a shortstop from Mississippi State. Always a strong defensive player, Gridley turned himself into a force with the bat during his junior season with the Bulldogs. Batting third most of the season, he hit .327/.393/.457 with a career-high six homeruns in 67 games.
After signing with the A’s as an 11th-round pick, Gridley joined the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters. Since that time, Gridley has been a fixture in the Vermont line-up. Going into the Lake Monsters’ double-header on Monday, Gridley has appeared in 52 games, second-most on the team. Between his college season and his pro debut, Gridley has played in a career-high 119 regular season games. Despite the long season, he is finishing strong with a .294 average over his last 10 games.
Gridley credits the surgery with allowing him to get through the long season.
“I think [removing the bone chip] has elongated my year. In the years before, it was really hard because I wasn’t really able to complete a full strength and conditioning program before the year would start,” Gridley said. “I would really wear down towards the end of the season. This year, I think it is really paying off what I did during the off-season. It’s allowing me to play through September at full strength and have no problems.
“I think it is going to even benefit me more in the future because I am going to be able to continue strength and conditioning and continue to get stronger and see those benefits pay off at the end of each year.”
Gridley’s good health has been a boon to the Lake Monsters. Splitting time between second base and shortstop, Gridley has been an asset with the glove and a tough out at the plate. He has a 27:29 BB:K and a .355 OBP through Sunday. He has also stolen six bases in eight opportunities.
Gridley prides himself in being a rally-starter.
“I want to give the guys who can drive them in a chance to score me and make sure I’m helping my team in any way that I can,” Gridley said.
With the glove, Gridley has been strong at both second and short. He has committed only five errors and has helped to turn 37 double-plays in 51 games (30 at second and 21 at short). While Gridley played mostly shortstop in college, he played second in high school and says he feels comfortable at both positions.
“I’m willing to accept wherever I get to play,” he said. “I don’t think it really matters, just as long as it puts me on the field.”
Gridley got off to a fast start with the Lake Monsters and was batting .294 through the end of July. That earned him a spot in the New York-Penn League All-Star game. He slumped in early August and saw his average drop to .248 on Aug. 22. A late surge has his average up to .256.
Gridley says he’s learned a lot from his first taste of professional baseball.
“It’s been pretty cool. There are a lot of ups-and-downs, obviously. You go through good stretches and bad stretches, just because the pitching is so good at this level,” Gridley said. “You see so many great players across the board. But it’s really cool to be able to say, ‘we have a roadtrip. This is what I need to get done this way.’ And just get into routines. Hopefully, it will lead to success in the future.”
A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman has liked what he has seen from Gridley, whose .256 average is 17 points higher than the New York-Penn League average.
“Ryan Gridley has been a really pleasant surprise,” Lieppman said. “When he has been in the line-up there, he’s a real blue collar guy who gets the job done. He’s [an] aggressive player.“
Gridley says playing in the SEC and spending a summer in the Cape Cod League put him in a good position to succeed in his pro debut.
“When you play in the SEC and you play in the Cape or really at any D I college, you are going to face really good arms,” Gridley said. “We saw good arms almost every single game just because each school would run up their best pitchers. It was something that really benefitted me and helped me get to where I am today.
“We learned how to act in front of other people and how to behave respectfully in front of other people in college. I think that also helped me. I had some great people and some great coaches in college show me the way.”
Two of the people he learned from in college were A’s starter Kendall Graveman and Nashville Sounds’ starter Ben Bracewell, both Mississippi State alums. Gridley didn’t play with either A’s hurler at MSU, but he got to know both of them when they came back to campus during the baseball off-season.
“They were in my Christian small group that I was in. They were leading me when I was a freshman and I recognized that Kendall was almost in the big leagues, if not already there. I always looked up to him. Ben lived with mutual friends of ours and we were always together,” Gridley said. “It was just cool to see them develop. Being able to have those guys in my life and being able to speak to them whenever I need to has been a really cool experience.”
Gridley also credits his time playing for the East Cobb Astros’ travel ball team in high school for helping to prepare him for the nomadic lifestyle of a minor league baseball player.
“The road trips are longer through this stage of our careers, but being able to do that when I was a lot younger has helped me to understand what to do now and how to take it. How to take a bus ride. How to understand how to play everyday and compete everyday while not exerting too much energy on certain plays and exerting a lot of energy when you need it,” Gridley said.
Although Gridley didn’t have any Mississippi State teammates join him in the A’s draft class this year, he knew several of his draft mates from his time in college. He sees good things from this group going forward.
“I think it was a great draft for the Oakland Athletics because we got a lot of college guys. We got a lot of good players across the board,” he said. “A lot of us knew each other before the draft. If you look at the draft board, you were like, ‘wow, we get to play with some friends that we knew or that we had mutual friends through’. It’s been pretty fun.”
The Lake Monsters have been one of the New York-Penn League’s best teams since the start of the season. Vermont is currently 40-31 and they sport the fourth-best record in the 14-team league. Gridley says the Lake Monsters have formed a tight bond.
“This team has so many guys who are really personable and they make you laugh,” Gridley said. “We are always with each other. Those are our best friends. I think that time together is what I will remember most, more so than being on the field or some of the stadiums. Just the times on the bus with your friends.”
Once the 2017 season officially wraps, Gridley plans to have some downtime and then continue the strength and conditioning work that he began last off-season after his surgery. Gridley will go back to Mississippi State to work with strength coach Brian Neal.
“I’m really going to focus on getting a lot stronger to hopefully increase my power numbers. To hit more doubles and homers next year would be my goal and to make sure that I am a steady defensive player,” Gridley said.
Gridley also wants to improve his running this off-season.
“Hopefully I can pick up a couple more stolen bases if I can get better jumps and increase my squat numbers,” he said. “I think the off-season is such an important part of our work because it’s the only real time that you can gain power, gain speed. In the season, it’s a lot harder because you are playing every single night. It gives you a chance to rest your body and then go right after it. I’m looking forward to that time.”
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