General : : Professional
Friday, April 16, 2010

Ronan Tells Young Pitchers: Be Ready

Jim Ecker        
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Kernan Ronan’s career got off to a promising start as a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants nearly 30 years ago. He spent his first year in Rookie Ball, spent his next year in Single A and Double A, and his third year in Triple-A.

His next stop was not the majors, however. The Giants shipped him back to Double-A for his fourth year, and he was still there in Year 5. And that was the end of that.
“No, I didn’t get hurt,” he said. “It’s just that my opportunity came and went, and I wasn’t ready for it.”

Ronan had a 3-8 record with a 6.95 ERA with Phoenix in his only year in Triple-A in 1983, never to return to that level.

“You always think there’s going to be another day,” he remarked. “But after the next two years in Double-A, I could see that would be the balance of my professional career if I wanted to keep pitching.”

His playing career ended, but that led to a long and successful career as a pitching coach. Ronan, 50, is in his 22nd year as a coach and instructor with the Los Angeles Angels. He’s been their Roving Pitching Coordinator since 2007, working with all the minor league hurlers in the organization, and the lessons he learned as a minor league pitcher himself have proven useful during his career as an instructor.

“The thing that I stress … I firmly believe that everybody’s opportunity is going to be there,” he said. “I stress to make sure that you’re mentally and physically prepared for when that opportunity arises, so you’re ready and you can handle it.”

Ronan said he wasn’t prepared to succeed in Triple-A. “More mentally than anything,” he claimed.

It takes discipline, a strong work ethic and confidence, he said. Everybody in pro ball has talent, but not everybody succeeds. Not everybody climbs the ladder.
“It doesn’t get easier as you move up. There’s more distractions,” he said. “But you need to be able to say, ‘Hey, I can handle it,’ and believe in your stuff, that you are good enough and you belong where you are.

“But,” he added, “be ready for that opportunity, both physically and mentally, with good work habits, good discipline, and take your career seriously.”

Ronan spent part of this past week with the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Class A Midwest League, working with their pitchers as part of his season-long tour of the Angels’ farm system.

“This is my first stop,” he said Thursday. “I go from here to Salt Lake City (Triple-A) for five days. When I travel, I try to see a team for five days. That way I can see every starter, and I’ll usually get to see every relief pitcher in those five days. Very seldom do I not see everybody pitch.

“Then I’m home (in Phoenix) for about two days, then I go to Rancho (Cucamonga, in High A) for five days and Little Rock (Double-A) for five days. Then home for a couple of days, and I start the process over again in May.”

Ronan will make four visits to each team, and also will spend time with the Angels’ short-season rookie clubs in Orem (Utah) and Tempe (Ariz.) following the draft. He figures he has 80 to 90 pitchers to keep track of, charting their development and careers.

“You look at stuff. You look at arm action – a good arm,” he said. “Ideally you’d like to have taller guys, because they usually create a better angle and they can throw the ball downhill. But everybody is not going to be like that. So you really just look at arm action and stuff – great stuff – and go from there.”

Ronan liked what he saw in Cedar Rapids with the Kernels.

“This group here is very respectful. They listen,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Hey, we’re here to develop championship-winning pitchers at the big-league level, we’re not here to have the best pitchers in the Midwest League. We want you out of here and then for the big leagues.’ So anything we share with them is with that ultimate goal in mind.”
Ronan said the best part is seeing a raw kid develop into a big-league pitcher. And succeed.

“It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “When we won the World Series in 2002, a lot of those players came up through the organization, and that made it that much more special for me. When they get their chance, I’m tickled pink.” 

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