The Survivor

Undrafted Ryan Hanigan entered the Cincinnati organization as an unheralded free agent in 2002. He climbed up the organization over the years and become one of the players upon which the the Reds built a pennant contender. The underrated catcher is now one of the longest-tenured members on a team where he's provided solid performance behind the plate for five seasons.

Ryan Hanigan is one of the most underrated players in the major leagues. That's nothing new because he's been getting overlooked since coming out of Andover (DC) High School. Initially he had a difficult time finding a place to play collegiately before Rollins (FL) College gave him a chance at 3B/LF while an upperclassman caught. He did well in Division II and his performance at a New England summer league caught the eye of some scouts before he signed with the Reds as an undrafted free agent in 2002. That year he got a cup of coffee at Dayton and began working his way up their system. He hit .321 in AA in 2005 only to be sent back there again in 06 in favor of a catcher at Louisville that was drafted in the second round. Finally in 07 he got an overdue promotion to AAA and made it to the Reds for five games after roster expansion.

The status Cincinnati catching in 08 had Paul Bako (.217 AVG) getting most of the action while Hanigan was pounding AAA pitching at a .324/.392 OB clip. Finally he returned to the Reds in August and hit a respectable .271 in thirty games. By the end of that year Bako, David Ross, and Javier Valentin were gone, leaving Hanigan the only Reds catcher returning the following year.

Perhaps the stigma of going undrafted was still hanging over him and the Reds weren't content to give him the job exclusively. Instead they traded for former AL all-star Ramon Hernandez and those two split action behind the plate for the next three seasons. Actually that decision had good results as the RH/RH combo performed solid defensively and contributed nice production at the bottom of the lineup. In their division championship season in 2010 both hit close to .300 and got on base more than 35% of the time.

The Reds did not re-sign the 36 year-old Hernandez before last season and he took a 2 yr/$6.4M deal to go hit .217 in 52 games with the Rockies. Meanwhile it was the year that former first round pick and Reds minor league player of the year Devin Mesoraco hit the scene as one of the pre-season favorites for Rookie of the Year. It's a very difficult position for a rookie and instead of picking up the hardware Mesoraco took a late season trip to Louisville and eventually veteran pick-up Dioner Navarro took his spot on the postseason roster.

Meanwhile Hanigan kept chugging along, hitting .274 and getting on base at .365. What's more impressive than his performance at the plate is his work behind it. He threw out a league-best 48% of opposing base-stealers last year and he's never been charged with more than four errors or three passed balls in a season. The 2012 Reds pitching staff raised a lot of eyebrows and Hanigan was a big reason for that. While he was hanging the signs their league-lowest ERA dipped down to 3.02. Homer Bailey's ERA with/without Hanigan was 3.20/3.89 and Mat Latos was at 3.38/3.71. (Hanigan caught Mike Leake only once and all of Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto's games except for one.)

Earlier in his career there was reason to question his durability. He missed some action and appeared to be hampered on the field at other times. It wasn't a serious problem because he teamed so well with Hernandez behind the plate and since every team carries two catchers anyway they did not require an additional roster spot. Then last year at the age of 31 he held up for career bests in games played and plate appearances. Mesoraco is still a high-upside player and remains prominent in the Reds plans for the future. However, Hanigan causes the Reds to have a good situation for a young catcher to develop. There's generous playing time if he improves and the job is in good hands if he comes around slowly. Meanwhile when he's not playing he can watch an elite defensive catcher in action.

Hanigan has carved out a solid career focusing on strengths and offsetting an absence of power with high-on base skills. Though he may never make an all-star team, manager Dusty Baker is glad he stuck around, as well as Reds accountants. In 2013 he's scheduled to make a personal high $2M, making him extremely affordable. He's eligible for arbitration next year and free agency in 2015. It's a fact of life in small markets that budgets often force tough decisions and perhaps Mesoraco will take over the lion's share of the action by then. Still, undrafted Hanigan was supposed to be out of baseball long ago and instead he has a key role in the plans of a pennant contender the he helped build, so don't bet on him leaving any time soon.

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