For most professional athletes, the rise to the highest highs of sporting achievement is not without a little adversity. Ryan Pressly, a right-handed relief pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, is no exception. Entering his senior year of high school, Pressly, a solid football player, had a decision to make. Baseball would be his ticket to college and a potential professional career, but he could not let his teammates down.
“My parents said, ‘Well it’s your decision, so go ahead and play.’ About six games in, running with an interception, I completely forgot about the wide receiver. He hit me from the side, and my knee completely buckled. The next day, I could barely walk,” Pressly explained.
“That was my first ACL surgery, and it did not go as planned. I ended up pitching my whole senior year with a bent knee on my land leg. It hurt, but there was nothing I could do about it. Eventually it got straightened out after I was drafted by the Red Sox.”
Despite dealing with an injury suffered on the football field (and an angry mother who wanted him to focus solely on baseball), Pressly still advocates for young athletes to play more than one sport.
“Whether it’s football or basketball, and your main sport is baseball, you need other sports to work on different things. You need to work on footwork for other sports like basketball or soccer. Say you have really quick feet from football, that helps when you have to break down and get over to cover first base as a pitcher,” Pressly said, in support of the two-sport athlete. “Look at Matthew Stafford. He was Clayton Kershaw‘s catcher. You see some quarterbacks dropping down to make difficult throws. Well, Russell Wilson was a professional second baseman. There is that risk of getting hurt, but you need to accept that, in my opinion.”
Dealing with a torn ACL was not the only roadblock for Ryan Pressly during his senior year of high school. He spent the first three-and-a-half years attending American Heritage Academy, a small private school in Carrollton, Texas, but as attendance dwindled at the school, the baseball program was in danger of being cut. Pressly already had a scholarship offer from Texas Tech University, and was committed to playing in college, but could not risk sitting out an entire baseball season. He transferred to nearby Marcus High School.
“I couldn’t sit out an entire season and wait for summer ball,” Pressly said. “I sat down with my parents, and we decided I would transfer to the bigger school. If I was going to get noticed, especially by scouts, playing against the more difficult competition of the bigger schools would help. It was definitely a culture shock. I went from a graduating class of 32 to a class of 1,200.”
Despite excelling at Marcus, Pressly still did not expect to become a high draft pick due to his knee injury. He was 3-6 pitching during his senior year, but all three wins came in dominating no-hit fashion. Still, Pressly and his adviser felt he was ticketed somewhere between rounds 20 and 30. An excellent try-out helped propel his name up the draft boards.
“It all started at the Area Codes try-out,” Pressly explained. “I wasn’t even invited. I just showed up and paid my way. One of my buddies was standing behind the guns, and 94, 95 started popping up. The velocity wasn’t consistent, but it came at the right time, I guess.”
“I didn’t make the Area Code team, but I did get invited to the pro scout showcase in Arlington, and things started taking off from there. I hadn’t actually begun getting calls from scouts until after that try-out. We still weren’t sure whether I would be drafted. I was o.k. with that, because I still had the scholarship to Texas Tech in my back pocket.”
The Boston Red Sox shocked Pressly by making him an eleventh-round pick. Out of nowhere, his name popped up in the draft ticker much earlier than expected. Being picked much higher than expected helped Pressly and his parents make the decision to turn professional and forgo a college education. Having already experienced a significant injury, Pressly could not pass up the chance to go pro while risking further injury.
Entering the Red Sox system, Pressly experienced modest success his first four years as a pro. The Red Sox initially pegged him as a starting pitcher, and Pressly went 18-26 with a 3.93 ERA over the first four years of his career.
“As a starter, you have to pace yourself and be able to throw everything for a strike. Four pitches for strikes, not two. Three of those have to be plus-pitches,” Pressly said. “In High-A in 2012, I wasn’t doing that well. Honestly, I thought the Red Sox might release me, but they moved me to the bullpen. I had a few outings out of the ‘pen in High-A, got called up to Double-A for the first time, and did really well there.”
Pressly pitched well enough out of the bullpen for Double-A Portland, that the Red Sox decided to send him to the Arizona Fall League. The positive results Pressly was seeing out of the bullpen carried over the the Fall League. Pressly threw 14.0 innings, struck out 18, and walked only one. His performance turned some heads, and the Minnesota Twins selected him with the fourth pick in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft.
While the Rule 5 Draft presented Ryan Pressly with an opportunity for a guaranteed roster spot with the Twins, it was far from a perfect situation. Many Rule 5 picks are on the fringes of being ready for the big leagues. Pressly was no exception.
“Going into big league camp, I just kind of sat back and watched everyone else,” the right-hander said. “I watched what they did. You’ve got to remember, I hardly had any experience out of the bullpen. I didn’t really know what I was doing. The Twins really threw me into things. I was in there in the second inning. I was pitching against the best hitters. I really had to learn from the veterans — how to warm up, how to handle coming out of the bullpen. It’s one of those things you have to learn on the fly.”
Pressly allowed only one run in 13.2 innings and made the Twins. His rookie season could only be described as a success. Pressly got into 49 games with the Twins, more than exceeding expectations for a Rule 5 pick. He allowed only five home runs in 76.2 innings, and posted a solid 3.87 ERA. Entering the 2014 season, however, Pressly found himself trapped in the cycle back and forth from the minor leagues many Rule 5 picks encounter.
“It’s tough. You never want to hear you’ve been optioned down to Triple-A, especially after you’ve been in the big leagues the year before. Getting called into the office and having the manager, GM, and pitching coach tell you you’re going down, it’s a gut-punch. At the time, I hated it, but looking back, it was good for me. I went down, continued learning, and came back with more polish. It’s one of those things, you take it with a grain of salt, and go about your business. You can’t go down there and act like a big baby.”
Pressly excelled at Triple-A on the heels of his strong rookie season with the Twins. Ultimately, the big club brought him back to finish the 2014 season, and he excelled yet again. Pressly pitched in 25 games with the Twins, and recorded a 2.86 ERA while also lowering his walk rate. His 2015 season followed a similar trajectory, and Pressly did not get back to the big leagues until May. He pitched well again, appearing in 27 games and recording a 2.93 ERA while not allowing a single home run in 27.2 innings. Unfortunately for Pressly, his 2015 season was cut short by a lat muscle strain. Through 101 games with the Twins, Pressly is 8-5 with a 3.46 ERA in 132.2 innings. His MLB numbers far exceed his minor league numbers, and Pressly has carved out a nice home in the Twins bullpen.
The injury-shortened 2015 season was still an excellent one for Ryan Pressly, and he reveled in the success of the Twins under first-year manager Paul Molitor. The post-win dance parties, complete with fog machine, led by veteran Torii Hunter remain some of the most fun moments Pressly has experienced to date in his big-league career. The Twins entered the season overlooked by all, but shocked the world by nearly reaching the playoffs.
“Losing that last game, knowing that we were eliminated, that is still such an awful feeling,” Pressly said, reflecting on the 2015 season. “You win 40 more games than you won a year ago, to fall short is just a feeling you never want to have again. In a way, I’m glad I have that feeling of almost making it, because that’s going to drive me even more this offseason. After seeing the chemistry that we all had, there’s just a feeling that we’re for real.”
A little missed-playoff adversity is nothing for Ryan Pressly. He’s been there, done that, and moved on stronger and better than ever. It’s cliche to say that adversity fuels all professional athletes, but Ryan Pressly has lived that tried-and-true tale over and over, and will only continue getting better for it as his career progresses.