Rancho Cucamonga, California —— Sun’s out, gun’s out in Rancho Cucamonga this week.
The weather is starting to warm up, and Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Rylan Bannon acted accordingly on Wednesday afternoon, opting to go with a sleeveless t-shirt for pre-game early work with the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes at LoanMart Field.
Just ten months removed from being the eighth round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Cincinnati’s Xavier University, Bannon was all smiles joking about getting some sun to stay ahead of the dreaded farmer’s tan that’ll inevitably creep up this summer. Maybe it’s easy to keep it light like that — and show off the biceps a little bit — when you’ve enjoyed as much success as Rylan Bannon has so early in his pro career. Coming out of the gate last season at rookie-level Ogden, the third baseman slashed .336/.425/.591/1.016 with ten home runs and eight doubles over 149 at-bats in the hitter-friendly Pioneer League, earning postseason Rookie League and Organizational All-Star nods in addition to a league championship with the Raptors.
The Los Angeles Dodgers thought enough of Bannon’s success there to push him all the way up to High-A for his first full pro season this year — and early on, their faith has been rewarded. Entering play on Thursday, Rylan Bannon has already slugged three doubles, a triple, and six home runs in just 75 at-bats for the Quakes, good enough for an .893 OPS just a fraction of the way into the long summer season. It’s all a part of the master plan for the reigning Big East Conference Player of the Year.
“Coming out of college and playing at a high level there, and then having success throughout the summer last year, that was big for me,” Bannon told me a few hours before the Quakes’ home game on Wednesday night against the Stockton Ports. “That was a confidence booster, to come into pro ball without knowing what to really expect, and see that all my hard work was transferring over. And it continued this year too. I’ve gotten off to a pretty good start after working really hard all winter and into spring training.”
Perhaps somewhat undersized for a third base job at 5’10” and 180 lbs., Bannon’s early-career power surge — now 11 doubles, 16 homers, and a .976 OPS through 224 pro at-bats — must continue on into the upper minors if he’s to stick at the hot corner in an everyday role. The Los Angeles Dodgers appear to already be considering whether that’s feasible as he advances; Bannon has played three games at second base early this season after exclusively playing third in Ogden last summer, and for the majority of his career at Xavier. More new positions may be coming, too.
“They told me to expect to play maybe three or four games a week over at second, while still playing third, too,” he acknowledged, opening up the possibility of a utility-man future as a way to keep his bat in the lineup. “Third base feels more natural right now, but I’m versatile. I can do both, and I’m ready to play wherever they need me to play. Infield, outfield, they’ve even talked about me catching a little bit. I’ll do whatever they want me to do if that’s going to move me up, and eventually I’ll settle in somewhere.”
The catching experiment is still just talk now—Rylan Bannon has yet to catch a single inning in pro ball—but it tracks with the prospect’s upside in a way similar to organizational teammate Will Smith. A former infielder at the University of Louisville, Smith—also undersized, and with a promising power bat in his own right—has transitioned back and forth between the middle infield and behind the plate through his minor league career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bannon could follow in his footsteps there, creating a viable path forward to the big leagues for the 8th rounder and giving the Dodgers yet another super-utility option to eventually fit into their 40-man roster.
Regardless, the broader idea accompanying Rylan Bannon’s newfound versatility means the Quakes are going to get his bat in the lineup every day. Later this summer, that’ll prove to be a massive adjustment for the 22-year-old, as he has yet to play a full minor league season. And that, you see, is where the sleeveless shirts and “sun’s out, gun’s out” mentality comes into play: Bannon put in the work to earn the sleeveless look.
“This winter, I lived back at school with a few other pro ball guys, and we were in the weight room every single day,” Bannon said, noting his weightlifting uptick has been purposeful to stave off wearing down during the 140-game season. “We were on a great weightlifting program with the strength coaches there. I ate really healthy and tried to put on weight and work really hard in the weight room to prepare for what I knew I’d be experiencing this season.”
Why not show off the results, then? Especially considering how promising early returns have been: Rylan Bannon has reached base in 15 of his first 19 games, including a three-home run game against Lancaster last week and a four-hit night against Inland Empire a few days before that. The Quakes are but one-seventh of the way into their 2018 marathon, but Bannon is strong and light on his feet, and seems well-prepared to live the daily grind on into September.
“They tell us to expect to lose weight,” he acknowledged. “I was told to expect to lose 5-7 pounds at spring training, which I did. You put on all this weight in the offseason and you know you’ll lose some of it, but I don’t feel like I’m getting weaker. I feel just as strong now as I did in the offseason, and I know that I’ve worked my butt off to make the jump and be here.”
And so all summer long, Bannon and his teammates will fight farmer’s tans and try to go sleeveless in early work whenever able. If his early pro returns are any indication, though, the real gun show in Rancho Cucamonga will come long after the sun’s gone down, hours later under the lights, when Rylan Bannon puts on a nightly power surge in the middle of the Quakes’ lineup.
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