Ryan Cavan figures he’s in an enviable situation. And he’s doing a fine job of maximizing it.
Cavan already lived every young baseball player’s dream when he was drafted in 2009 by his favorite team, the San Francisco Giants. Now in his second full professional season, the Belmont resident is wrapping up a year in which he has continued to blossom a short drive down the road, where he plays for the San Jose Giants, the organization’s advanced-A affiliate.
“It’s unreal. It’s like a dream for me,” said Cavan, who has been thrilled to play in front of family and friends every day. “There couldn’t be a better place to play. Maybe San Francisco—that’d be the best obviously. But in the minor leagues, for me this is like playing at home. How many kids get to say they get to do that? Like none.”
Cavan has made himself quite at home in the California League, showcasing a newfound comfort at second base while building on the impressive pop at the plate that he displayed at earlier professional stops. The switch-hitter is batting .268, ranks a close second on his team with 84 RBIs in 123 games, and has shown solid plate discipline (59 walks).
“He’s right on track,” San Jose hitting coach Gary Davenport said. “He’s having another really good year. What makes him so special is his offensive side. But he’s worked probably as hard on his defense as he has his offense. And he’s really improved defensively also. But for him to go forward, it’s definitely going to be his offense that makes the difference.”
Cavan, 24, never figured he’d hit for much power at the pro level. He described himself as “a finesse hitter” when he played at Menlo School and throughout his three-stop college career. But after being sent to short-season Salem-Keizer (OR) once he signed two years ago, the ball suddenly started flying off his bat late in the year. He finished with nine home runs in 58 games.
The secret? Tennis racket grips. Cavan saw them on the handle of the fungo bat of one of his coaches and decided to try them out on his own.
“I put ‘em on my bat and the next thing you know, the last week of the season or two, I hit like six home runs, and I’d never done anything like that before in my whole career,” said Cavan, who had his first-ever multi-homer game in that stretch. “It was the wildest thing ever.”
Last year, at Single-A Augusta (GA), Cavan slammed 17 homers and hit .283 with 79 RBIs in 136 games. That impressive display earned him a promotion to San Jose this spring, where his progression has included enhanced selectivity and opposite-field hitting. He is tied for fourth in the California League with 35 doubles, also ranks among the league leaders in walks, runs and RBIs, and has hit 11 homers and five triples.
But ask Cavan what he’s the most proud of, and he quickly cites the leap he has taken defensively. Playing in the steamy heat of the South last year was a tough adjustment. Cavan said he “burned out” early in the year and started making “mental mistakes,” partly because of overworking himself in practice. But this year, he has benefited from knowing how to take care of his body over the rigors of a full season and from learning some defensive details in instructional league, and the results in the field have been noteworthy.
“I can’t remember the last time he’s made an error,” said San Jose center fielder Gary Brown, an elite defender. “Every time the ball’s hit to him, I know the play’s going to be made. Definitely, he’s striving to get better every day.”
Davenport seconds that, saying, “Ryan’s probably one of the hardest workers you’ll find.”
As much as Cavan has enjoyed his year in San Jose—he said hitting a homer with his father, Dave, in attendance on his 60th birthday, was a personal highlight—he, of course, hopes to play his way into another promotion. What does he hear from his coaches and club officials?
“They kind of keep you in the dark, but I’ve heard good compliments from a couple of the guys, the rovers that’ve come down,” said Cavan, who splits time in Belmont and at his grandparents’ house in Cupertino when San Jose is at home.
“The only thing you control in pro ball is how you play when you play. You don’t control when you play. But you do control how you play when you play. So that’s all you can really worry about as a player.”
Asked to project the details of his next step, Cavan said it would be to move up to Double-A Richmond (VA) next year after spring training.
“My goal is to move up a level every year,” he added.
In that department, he’s batting 1.000.