Vancouver Canadians pitcher Ryan Boyer checks in for the latest instalment of C’s Chat.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound righthander joined the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent on January 27. The Bradford, Pennsylvania native got to play ball in his hometown for quite a while, graduating from Bradford High School and joining the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford, a Division III program in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.
Boyer had a tough freshman season as a starter with the Panthers in 2016 but he told The Bradford Era that he decided to put his best foot forward by using a weighted ball as part of his Driveline Baseball training to boost the velocity of his pitches. The work paid off as Boyer sliced more than three-and-a-half runs off his earned run average to 3.39 in 2017, winning six of 10 decisions and pitching three complete games.
The momentum continued in the summer of 2017 when Boyer joined the Jamestown Jammers of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League where he posted a 2.66 ERA with nine of his 10 appearances coming out of the bullpen.
In 2018 back with the Panthers, Boyer went 5-2 with a 4.45 ERA and struck out over a batter an inning for the first time with 66 punchouts in 58-2/3 innings. He followed that up with another good turn in Jamestown, winning all four of his decisions, earning seven saves and sitting down 37 batters against six free passes in 25 frames. Boyer was named the Most Outstanding Player of the PCGBL finals, striking out five in 2-1/3 scoreless innings in the championship clincher over the Amsterdam Mohawks. That was part of 3-2/3 shutout frames and nine strikeouts as he was credited with the two wins in the finals.
The 2019 season with UPB saw Boyer dominate Wells College by striking out 16 batters as part of a complete game one-hitter but that turned out to be his only action on the mound. A knee injury during an intramural basketball game put him on the shelf for the rest of the college year. He was able to shake off the rust that summer with the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the Northwoods League where he put up a 2.95 ERA over 18-1/3 innings, striking out 30 and walking only four.
Boyer continued to show he over his knee injury in 2020 with the Panthers. He posted an impressive 43-5 strikeout/walk total in 25-1/3 innings over four starts, two of them complete games, as he went 2-2 with a 2.84 ERA before COVID shut down the rest of the year.
In 2021, Boyer decided to transfer to Division I Canisius College of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the same program 2015 Canadians first baseman/outfielder Connor Panas attended. In nine appearances with the Golden Griffins that included five starts, Boyer’s stuff still played as he whiffed 41 batters and walked only in 30-2/3 innings, going 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA.
That effort would have been enough to get Boyer in previous years but with the 2021 MLB draft cut down to 20 rounds, he latched on with the independent Milwaukee Milkmen of the American Association, an MLB Partner League. He racked up 64 strikeouts against 14 walks over 46-1/3 innings, winning six of nine decisions with a 2.72 ERA and a save.
That body of work was enough to get Boyer a shot with the Blue Jays in 2022. He made his professional debut with the Dunedin Blue Jays against Bradenton April 10 and earned his first win against Fort Myers April 22.
Boyer got his first promotion April 27 to Vancouver and made his C’s debut the next day with a shutout inning in Hillsboro. He struck out a career-high five batters over two innings in his Nat Bailey Stadium debut against Everett April 3 and earned his first win as a member of Monty’s Mounties by pitching a perfect inning and stranding a runner on second in the C’s walkoff win against Everett April 6.
C’s Plus Baseball caught up with Boyer the following day to talk about his journey to the Jays organization. The interview has been edited for clarity.
C’s Plus Baseball – How did you wind up with the Blue Jays? You were a free agent signing early this year. How did that all come about?
Ryan Boyer – Yeah, so it’s kind of a crazy story. I actually moved down to the Dunedin area and I think it was September last year. I had no contact with the Blue Jays prior to this. It just kind of happened. And then I got a DM. I got a message by Cory Popham, our pitching (development) coordinator. I think it was late November, he’d messaged me on Twitter and asked for some video. I sent it to him. I didn’t hear anything for like a month-and-a-half, two months, and he just kind of randomly messaged me back again in January, the end of January. And they signed me out right there. So that’s kind of the story.
CPB – How did it feel to sign that professional contract? I know you had a bit of a grind through college and all that, but what was that like for you to get to sign on the dotted line?
RB – It was really cool because it was something I always imagined. But you know, sometimes it felt like it was almost going to be impossible for me. So like, getting that call for me was really special for me, you know. I played six years of college baseball, five of them at Division 3 so I was at a pretty low level for most of my career, so it was really special for me to get that professional opportunity.
CPB – You pitch at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford. You got to pitch close to home anyway. It must have been nice to at least get to pitch college ball in your backyard, so to speak.
RB – Yeah it was. I mean, that’s the same field I played in high school at. I grew up right there 10 minutes from the field, so it was really good to be home for five years and it definitely helped me grow and being really comfortable in my environment there.
CPB – Were you always a pitcher throughout your career? Did you play a position as well?
RB – Yeah, I played. I was an infielder in high school. I played both ways. Played a little bit of every infield position really in high school.
CPB – Did you get to play any other sports in high school? Or did you just stick to baseball?
RB – I was a basketball player too. Had a pretty good basketball career, so it was just baseball and basketball in high school.
CPB – So what made you decide to go with baseball over basketball?
RB – I was just better at it. I had a good basketball career. Not great. I was a good player but nothing special. I was just always more of a natural pitcher, so that was definitely the route.
CPB – Talk about your best moment in baseball growing up. Did you have a certain game that stands out to you?
RB – I don’t know if this is considered growing up but in college, I think it was 2017, I played for the Jamestown Jammers and that was kind of like my breakout on the scene I guess in 2017 for them and we won the PGCB league championship and I was the Most Outstanding Player so I had a really big series. I won both games in the Championship series so that was probably my biggest highlight, I guess.
CPB – What was it like getting to pitch in a Summer Collegiate league like that?
RB – It was cool, you know, because I mean, they said ‘Pitt-Bradford, you know it’s a small school.’ So really when I got onto these summer leagues, I played in two different ones. I played in the Northwoods (League) also, which was a big step up for me. It was really cool because like the competition, you know, I was playing against Division One guys that at the time, I was only facing D-3 guys so you know it was a step up in competition. It was just really good to get out there in the summer and face that.
CPB – You also made it to Canisius College for your last year. How did that all come about?
RB – I spent five years at Pitt Bradford. I almost grad-transferred the year before. I went back for my fifth year. I just finished some stuff up academically and COVID hit obviously, so I had an extra year of eligibility. I didn’t know if I wanted to use it. And I kind of reached out to some contacts that I had from the previous year where I had thought about grad-transferring and Canisius was kind of always on my list.
I played with a couple of kids and summer ball, actually with the Jammers that I mentioned. They were at Canisius and I always thought that they had like a really tight-knit group. I played with four guys and they were always super close. I felt like the brotherhood of Canisius was something I really wanted to be a part of and the winning tradition so I decided to go there.
CPB – Who would you say has helped you develop as a pitcher, either through high school or college or anybody who has helped you out along the way?
RB – There’s plenty actually. But if I had to narrow it down to two guys, Hayden Carter and Anthony Barone. Anthony Barone was my manager with the Jamestown Jammers, and with the Milwaukee Milkmen where I played indy ball with. It wasn’t as much pitching as it was the mental side of it. He just really instilled a lot of confidence in me. Before, I was kind of wishy-washy with how I felt about myself out there and he gave me a ton of confidence and that was something really special for me to really turn my career around.
And Hayden Carter was the pitching coach at Jamestown and with the Kokomo Jackrabbits, which is where I played in the Northwoods (League). Same thing. He just really helped me turn a corner mentally which was huge for me which is what I needed because I had this stuff, you know, maybe up in the head. I was a little doubtful of myself.
CPB – You got a chance to pitch in indy (independent) ball with Milwaukee. What was that like getting the pitch in a Major League city next door to the Brewers?
RB – Yeah, it was really cool. I mean, that was another opportunity I didn’t know if I was going to get to even continue my career. Anthony Barone, he called me up and was like, ‘Hey, we want to give you a shot here.’ It was just really exciting. I really enjoyed indy ball. It’s really fun. You know I got to play with a bunch of older guys that had played Triple-A, Double-A. We had three or four big league guys (Editor’s Note – pitchers Brian Johnson and David Holmberg and outfielder David Washington) so it’s just a really good experience for me really. A really cool environment.
CPB – Were you a Pirates fan growing up or did you have a favorite Major League team or player that you followed?
RB – I wasn’t a Pirates fan. I was actually a Houston Astros fan growing up and obviously I was at a ton of Pirate games growing up. I’m not too close (to Pittsburgh), like three hours, but if we’re ever gonna go to a big league game, we’re going to Pittsburgh and you know, when the Astros were in the NL Central, that’s where we would hit up the Astros games every year down there in Pittsburgh. Cleveland’s about the same distance, so we went to plenty of…Guardians games. (laughs)
CPB – Now you have to think about that (not calling the Cleveland club by its former nickname).
RB – Yeah, we hit up both of those (Pittsburgh and Cleveland) pretty often.
CPB – How would you describe yourself as a pitcher?
RB – I think I’m just an aggressive pitcher. You know, I’m just trying to attack hitters at all times. I’m never trying to be in defensive mode. I’m always trying to be in attack mode, so I guess that’s the best way I could describe myself.
CPB – What pictures do you throw right now?
RB – Basically I’m a fastball-slider guy so I’m coming right at you with two pitches. I have a change up. I don’t ever throw it. Because I’m kind of in the belief that ‘Hey, these are my two best pitches. I’m just going to attack you with these.’ Because, you know, normally I’m throwing one or two innings so I don’t really try to bother with the third pitch.
CPB – Is it a four-seam or a two-seam fastball or do you throw both?
RB – I just throw a four-seam. I kind of have a low release slot and let it ride with the vertical break so that’s kind of my game.
CPB – As for the slider, Is there anyone who taught you that? How did you develop that or choose between that and a curveball or change up? How did that all come about?
RB – Throughout the years, I’ve had a curveball, I had a slider. I go back and forth. Maybe one year, I have a curveball. One year, it’s a slider. Last year, I had mainly the same arsenal, a fastball-slider but the slider was a little tighter, a little shorter, maybe a little harder. But this year, I’ve developed more of the sweeping slider where it’s maybe a little slower, but it’s getting a lot more horizontal break. That’s kind of something I worked on this offseason. And then once I got with the Jays, that’s, you know, a little secret of the trade the Jays are working on now. It’s definitely a pitch that I’ve been developing.
CPB – You got to pitch in Dunedin to start the year. You also get a chance to sample their Player Development Complex. How’s that helped you develop as a pitcher getting a chance to (be) in a state-of–the-art complex like that?
RB – It was great. Like I said, I moved down there beforehand and then as soon as I got signed, I could go right into the Player Development Complex and it’s state-of-the-art, you know. You can’t really ask for more. They have everything you need there, so it’s really great for us pitchers and hitters obviously. And I mean, you really can’t complain, we got everything we need there.
CPB – You got your first professional win in Dunedin and you get one (May 6 vs Everett). Obviously you’re making a nice transition here in the Northwest League. How’s it been pitching here in Vancouver so far?
RB – It’s been fun, you know. I was really looking forward to getting up here. When I did, I knew I’d have a chance if I threw well in Dunedin and I was excited to get up here once they gave me the call. And you know, I’m just happy to keep my team in games and give us a chance, Like to have P.K. (Morris) walk it off there, that was cool.
CPB – Coming into the game (in the ninth inning with nobody out and Everett’s Charlie Welch drawing a leadoff walk), you had a runner on first. What’s your mentality? You know it’s a tie game, the pressure is kind of on but you were able to rise to the challenge. Even though (a David Sheaffer fly ball to left allowed Welch to tag up) to go to second, you’re able to stand that runner by getting the three guys you needed to get.
RB – Like I said, my mentality is always just be aggressive and that’s kind of doesn’t change. A guy on first, no outs. I just want to attack these hitters. I don’t want to ever walk a guy. Definitely in a situation like that, a tie game, you’re not trying to put any runners on, so I’m just trying to be aggressive at the hitters and make them really (not) drive the ball. Hopefully, they won’t and I’ll get a couple of outs, you know?
CPB – Final question Ryan, your goals for 2022?
RB – I just really want to see how far I can take it. As far as advancing levels and just keeping my team in games when I’m out there, you know. Just keeping that same mentality every time and not laxing. After a couple of appearances, you might get comfortable but I don’t want to get comfortable and always stay aggressive.
Thanks a million to Ryan Boyer for taking to the hill in this episode of C’s Chat and another million thanks to C’s play-by-play announcer Tyler Zickel for setting it up.