SAN DIEGO – Just because this is Ryan January’s first trip to Southern California and his first taste of the easy-going lifestyle often associated with the land of beaches, desert palms, zoos and Sea Worlds, don’t expect the 6-foot-3, 195-pound catcher from Swampscott, Mass., to go all surfboard-soft on anyone.
January didn’t leave his fiery, competitive nature or his high expectations back in New England when he came west to showcase his skills at the Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games, which ran Monday and Tuesday at beautiful Fowler Park on the University of San Diego campus.
“I think I come in with some pretty high expectations for everyone that is here,” January said Tuesday morning. “I want to see who the players are and who I want to play against and who I’m going to be playing against in the summer.
“I have high expectations for myself – I always do no matter what I’m doing,” he said. “I could be playing 4-square with my little brother (Dylan) and I expect to beat him into the ground.”
With brotherly beat-downs at least temporarily on hold, Ryan and Dylan January, their parents Derek and Nicole January, and Derek’s mother and stepfather turned this trip to California into a January Family Baseball Vacation.
Ryan performed at the Area Code Underclass Games Friday through Sunday before heading south to the two-day PG Underclass All-American Games. This is the first time Ryan has been west of the Mississippi River but this is no sight-seeing vacation. He’s taking full advantage of the exposure he’s receiving away from his home in Massachusetts and the benefits his showcase stops provide.
“With Perfect Game (events), I like how everything is recorded and everything is put on the website pretty much immediately,” Ryan said. “Obviously, the talent level and the competition out here are really good, too. I had never been to California or the West Coast, for that matter, so obviously it’s a good experience for me; I love the weather.”
Perfect Game ranks January the No. 63 overall national prospect in the high school class of 2016 and the No. 10 catching prospect, which speaks volumes about the quantity of quality catchers in the class. There are three 2016 catching prospects here – No. 10 Thomas Dillard (Cordova, Tenn.), No. 26 Garrett Wolforth (Spring, Texas) and No. 46 Tyler Duvall (Lebanon, Ohio) – ranked higher than January.
Those three have committed to Mississippi, Dallas Baptist and Vanderbilt, respectively; January is uncommitted.
“This has been a real good opportunity for schools out here to see him,” Derek January said Tuesday. “He had a real good Area Code (Games) and he had a real good day here (Monday) so he’s had a lot of schools from the West Coast inquire about him in the last 48 hours or so.
“In order to make an informed decision you need to be able to see as many places as you can and play against as much (high-level) competition as you can.”
Ryan January is in a unique and enviable situation in that he attends exclusive Salisbury (Conn.) Preparatory School that boasts a baseball program that finished No. 8 in PG’s final 2014 National High School Rankings. In the summer he plays for the elite East Cobb Astros out of Marietta, Ga., and the Astros contend for multiple PG national championships on an annual basis.
John Toffey runs the national championship-level program at Salisbury and Guerry Baldwin has long been running the national championship-caliber East Cobb Baseball operation.
“They’re both a little bit different but they’re both a little bit the same in how we both win championships; that’s kind of the similar part,” Ryan January said, adding that there are differences, as well. “I definitely play better competition in the summer. I definitely have to focus more during the summer because A, I’m playing more; B, I’m playing better competition, and C, we’re also traveling a lot.”
Derek January noted that Ryan has developed life-long friendships with his teammates at both Salisbury and East Cobb. Ryan has also learned “a different brand of baseball” by playing in the South instead of restricting himself to the Northeast.
“He’s getting different perspectives from different coaches and learning different ways to do things, but the end result has always been ‘team first, me second’,” Derek said. “Nobody employs that winning method more than Guerry Baldwin does at East Cobb. If you’re not there to win as a team he’ll just put you on a bus and send you home.”
Ryan January has always been a catcher and it’s a position that runs in his family. His grandfather Don January – Derek January’s father – was a catcher that played four seasons (1964-67) in the minor leagues, and an uncle, Jeff January, was a catcher at the University of South Florida in the early 1990s; Dylan is also a catcher.
“It’s the best (position) in the game,” Ryan January said. “It has the most pressure, I think, even though I’m not really more of a pressure guy. There are a lot of responsibilities – you have to take care of a lot of things and you’re the captain on the field.
“You have to make sure everyone is where they need to be and you have to make sure the game tempo is running the way your pitcher and your team needs it to go. There’s just a lot of responsibility behind the plate.”
Derek January was a left-handed pitcher who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers right out of Bridgeton Academy High School in Swampscott in the 1989 MLB amateur draft and again by the New York Yankees, this time out of Dade-Miami (Fla.) College in 1990.
He was injured and never played an inning of professional ball but stays involved in the game by umpiring at the collegiate level in the spring and in the Cape Cod Collegiate League in the summer.
Ryan said his father has had a tremendous influence on his baseball career. Derek turned him around to hit from left side as a 5-year-old and continues to serve as his personal hitting coach. “He’s the guy who has taught me everything I know,” Ryan said.
“I’m helping him with the process,” Derek said. “He’s his own individual when it comes to working, and he works hard. You don’t have to tell him he should go take some swings or go work on this or go work on that or go to the gym – he’s pretty capable of making those decisions and he does a pretty good job of it, too.”
When asked if he ever worries about getting burned-out because of all the baseball he plays, Ryan January responded with a quizzical look, as if the questioner had lost his mind. “I could come home and play every day; there’s no other way I want to spend my summer or do anything else other than playing,” he said.
He does play basketball at Salisbury Prep but quit playing football in recent years.
“It helps me take a little bit of time away from baseball,” he said of his hoops play. “If I didn’t do that I’d be playing baseball the whole time and sometimes taking a little bit of time off is good for me.”
The January family has enjoyed watching 17-year-old Ryan grow into one of the top rising high school junior prospects in the country over the last decade or so. He was a 6-foot, 150-pound 14-year-old when he made his PG debut in late June 2011 and has continued to add weight and strength to his now 6-foot-3 frame over 17 PG events that followed.
Ryan was named to all-tournament teams at the 2013 PG WWBA 15u National Championship, 2013 PG BCS Finals and 2013 PG Underclass World Championship playing with the East Cobb Astros, and at the 2014 PG High School Showdown-Academies playing with Salisbury Prep.
The trip west – Ryan January’s working vacation – has helped cement his status as one of the top prospects in the 2016 class.
“This has been more than we anticipated,” Derek said. “Area Codes went great, Perfect Game has been great; we’ve had great weather and great complex, good players and he’s enjoyed it. We’ve enjoyed coming out here and I couldn’t see it being any better than it’s been for us so far.
“It’s been a nice experience and the weather’s been great, the accommodations have been great, and it’s been good baseball on top of it.”