Ryan Drake’s baseball career changed course drastically in 2015.
Thought to have been a potential part of Grapevine’s pitching plans for the spring, a strained ligament in the right-hander’s elbow in the fall put those plans on hold for the most part. A natural shortstop, need and the ability to move other talented players on to the field required him to move to third base.
“Everything was definitely different for me,” Drake said. “I’d been used to playing shortstop throughout my life. But when I moved to third base, I used my footwork and my hands and reactions the way I normally do. It went well.”
Those changes created opportunity for Drake. He played his part in Grapevine collecting its first baseball state championship in school history when it claimed the 5A state title this past June.
For his part, Drake primarily batted eighth and was a master at handling the bat in bunting situations as the Mustangs finished 35-6. Drake finished at .300 with three sacrifice bunts. Drake also added a home run and 18 RBIs.
“All I wanted to do was my job. I loved that role,” Drake said. “We were so deep, one through nine. We just handled a lot of situations.”
Drake developed a knack for laying down a bunt that could go down as a sacrifice but wound up being a base hit. The key was paying attention to what head coach Steve Hutcherson taught. Hutcherson wanted his batters to work the ball on certain angles of the plate whether that was the third base line or first base line.
Drake, who will be a senior in 2016-2017, is now using this summer with his futures team in order to prepare himself for the upcoming 2017 season. He’s seeing plenty of work on the mound and making up for lost time. His role could be important if the Mustangs are to pursue a second consecutive state championship.
“Having someone in the eight spot that was as technical and as effective a bunter as Ryan was gave our lineup more depth and the ability to manufacture runs,” Hutcherson said. “He could be one of our top starters or probably even our closer depending on how things develop. No matter what, he will be a guy that we depend on.”
This is a pretty important summer for Drake (6-3, 185), who has the frame to be a pitcher. There is the possibility that he is not done growing. He has grown two inches in the last 18 months.
At the very least, Drake hopes that colleges will see something as he continues to mature on the mound. With his elbow fully recovered, Drake is taking his turn in the summer rotation. He’s throwing his four-seam and two-seam fastballs with ease. He has confidence in his curveball and is developing a slider.
It’s just a relief to be pitching every fifth day after throwing a total of four innings this past spring.
“I’ve really been working a lot about going low in the zone,” Drake said. “But I’ve been growing a little bit and had pretty good command of my pitches. I know that some of the schools that I’ve been talking with see me as a pitcher. Some see me as an infielder. It would great to do both.”