Versatile Wright Has Always Hit
MALIBU, Calif.—When Ryan Wright arrived on Louisville's campus in the fall of 2008, after a standout career as a high school shortstop and football quarterback in Indiana, Cardinals coach Dan McDonnell wasn't sure if he would stay at short, or fill out and move to third base, or even if he'd wind up in center field. But he knew one thing.
"He's a very good athlete, and he could play shortstop, but it looks like he's going to be very physical and versatile, not a skinny little shortstop that has to hit eighth or ninth," McDonnell said that fall. "He will end up hitting third his junior year."
McDonnell knew an impact bat when he saw one. Sure enough, Wright is entrenched in the No. 3 hole as a junior this spring and leading the team in batting (.308) and home runs (two) through 14 games—after hitting cleanup as the youngest everyday player in Louisville's lineup a year ago. Wright has been a run producer since his freshman year, when he hit sixth and protected sluggers Chris Dominguez and Phil Wunderlich. He drove in 146 runs over his first two college seasons, then emerged as the best clutch hitter for Team USA last summer.
It doesn't matter what position he's asked to play—Wright shows up with his lunch pail, ready to work and ready to hit. As a freshman, the Cardinals had no room for him in their infield, so they used him in right field, just to get his bat in the lineup. He started his sophomore year at his natural shortstop, but developed bicep tendinitis early in the year, so Louisville slid him over to second base to put less strain on his arm. Team USA had no room for him in the middle infield last summer, so Wright split time between the infield corners. Now he's back at second, where he figures to stay.
"He's started to get comfortable over there," McDonnell said. "He makes all the throws, all the angles. I really believe he's a big league second baseman. He's going to hit for average, he's going to drive in runs, and he's going to make all the plays."
A National League crosschecker said Wright profiles best at second, because he lacks the power potential for a corner, and he doesn't quite have the range for shortstop. But as he continues to master the nuances of second base, he has a chance to be a strong defender there. Major league scouting directors even voted him a third-team preseason All-American at second base heading into the spring.
"There's so much different from shortstop—people don't really realize the angles, and the double play is magnified so much more at second base with the turns from third and short," Wright said. "I had to get a little more explosive in the offseason, get a quicker first step, and work on turning double plays. I feel happy with how far I've come."
Wright has never been one to shy away from hard work. In fact, his work ethic and mature demeanor are his most identifiable characteristics. "I said it his freshman year: He just has a businesslike approach," McDonnell said. "He just punches the clock—very mature. When I say mature, just from the standpoint that he doesn't show a lot of emotion, he doesn't get too high or too low. I'm sure he might goof around or cut up around the players, but we don't see it.
"This is a new role for him this year. Even last year, he was the youngest guy in the lineup. We had all those juniors and seniors, and he was the sophomore. Now they're all gone, just him and (Stewart) Ijames are the two staples that are back. So I challenge him to be a little more vocal."
Wright has embraced that challenge. "I think our success as a team will be based greatly upon how me and Stewart are able to lead these guys," he said. "How we approach a game, what we're able to do each at-bat, handle the game with maturity."
His maturity made him a favorite of the Team USA coaching staff last summer—that, and his bat. Wright hit .361/.451/.541 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 61 at-bats with wood last summer, ranking second on the team in hitting and third in OBP and slugging.
"I kind of think Ryan Wright may have been the MVP of our team—he got a lot of key base hits for us during the year," Team USA coach Bill Kinneberg said at the end of the summer. "He's got a line-drive swing. I probably hit-and-ran with him way too much, because I had that confidence in him."
"There's no question," the crosschecker said, "the bat is his best tool."
Indeed, McDonnell knew an impact bat when he saw one.