Cat Scratches: Strieby's Best Path to the Bigs in the Outfield?

Aug. 7, 2009

Posted at 4:14 p.m. EDT - Brent Ingram, UK Media Relations

All it took was one year at Kentucky for baseball slugger Ryan Strieby to win Southeastern Conference Player of the Year honors and lead UK to its first SEC Championship in school history. Now as the top prospect in the Detroit Tigers system, Strieby has performed well enough to earn a big league call up.

The Tigers' reigning minor league player of the year, Strieby has done nothing but hit since arriving in Lexington before the 2006 season. Now a member of the double-A Eastern League Erie SeaWolves, Strieby appears ready for a big-league promotion, as his .305 average, 17 home runs and 53 RBI in 78 games attests.

Just one problem, the Tigers already have a good offensive first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, therefore leaving nowhere for Strieby to play upon a big league call up. The lack of a path to the majors is forcing the 6-foot-6, 235-pound slugger to find a different route - the outfield.

"He is going to be a major league hitter, it's just a matter of when that takes place," Glenn Ezell, the Tigers' director of player development said. "His fastest way to the big leagues in our organization is in the outfield. He's just a big guy that's a pretty good athlete."

An everyday first baseman his entire baseball career, Strieby is getting acclimated to the spacious grounds of the outfield, in an effort to fast track his path to Comerica Park in Detroit.

"I had no second thoughts (about playing the outfield)," Strieby said in an interview with Baseball America's Matt Forman. "My goal is to play in the big leagues, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to get there."

Strieby made his outfield debut on May 7 but has shagging fly balls in batting practice throughout the season, in an effort to learn footwork, jumps and routes to the ball. Since May ended, Strieby has started half of his games in left field and hasn't allowed the pressure of a defensive switch to effect his effortless hitting ability.

"It's a matter of getting experience so (defensive) situations don't catch him by surprise," Ezell said. "He's used to being close to the bat and now he's away from the bat. Before, the hitter kind of made him stay in the game because you never know when you'll get one off the shin bone."

While Strieby's offensive production comes as no surprise to UK head coach Gary Henderson, who recruited Strieby out of Washington just before the 2006 season, his bout with injuries the last two seasons has come as a surprise. Strieby missed the final 19 games of the 2008 season after breaking a hamate bone in his left hand - the same season-ending injury that forced former All-American outfielder Collin Cowgill to miss the 2007 UK season. This season, Strieby has been battling a related bone spur injury, that has forced him to go on the seven-day disabled list after a 13-game homerless drought in late June. An Eastern League All-Star, Strieby chose not to play in the midsummer classic to help his hand heal.

While at UK in 2006, Strieby rewrote UK's record books while helping lead UK to its first conference championship in the 75-year history of the league. The Brier, Wash., native led UK in doubles (22), home runs (20), RBI (77), on-base percentage (.473), total bases (164) and slugging (.704) during the historic 2006 campaign, before becoming the Tigers' fourth-round MLB Draft choice in June of 2006. Strieby is not the only former UK star on the SeaWolves, as former UK third baseman, Michael Bertram, was recently promoted to double-A, marking the fourth consecutive season the two have played on the same team.