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Prep Sports

Goss: Bannon's banner year continuing in pro ball

Joliet Catholic graduate Rylan Bannon was the Big East Conference Player of the Year this spring. He was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the eighth round of the recent draft and now is on a hot streak with the Ogden Raptors in the Pioneer Rookie League. | Dave Wegiel,  XU Athletics
Joliet Catholic graduate Rylan Bannon was the Big East Conference Player of the Year this spring. He was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the eighth round of the recent draft and now is on a hot streak with the Ogden Raptors in the Pioneer Rookie League. | Dave Wegiel, XU Athletics

Rylan Bannon was a solid high school baseball player when he patrolled the middle infield for Joliet Catholic Academy, graduating in 2014.

He hit well, though not with much power. He had a good glove and could run.

There was enough in his game to merit an NCAA Division I scholarship to Xavier University in Cincinnati.

After that, not many saw this coming.

Following a junior season at Xavier where he hit .339 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs, Bannon was named the Big East Conference Player of the Year. He was draft eligible and ready for his first taste of pro ball.

The Los Angeles Dodgers made the dream a reality when they selected him in the eighth round of the recent draft, the 250th overall selection. They signed him and assigned him to Ogden, Utah to play with the Ogden Raptors in the Pioneer Rookie League.

Bannon began the professional season a modest 2-for-9 in three games, although he did smash his first home run. Then came a four-game streak, through Wednesday night's game, where he went 10-for-18 with two more homers. That raised his season average to .444 (12-for-27) with two doubles, three home runs and six RBIs.

"Yeah, things have been going pretty well," Bannon said. "Everything is moving really fast the past few months.

"The first few games here, I was getting my feet wet. There definitely was an adjustment from college ball. Then I started to see the ball better and hitting it harder."

JCA won the Class 3A state championship in Bannon's junior year, but he was sidelined the playoffs with a broken thumb. Chris Tschida was the Hilltoppers' shortstop in those days, and Bannon's injury caused JCA coach Jared Voss to insert sophomore Mitch Boe to handle second base. Boe now is playing at Iowa.

The right-handed hitting Bannon said he weighed "150- or 155-ish" in high school. He is up to about 175 or 180 now and "would like to add five or 10 more pounds." The additional weight and a controlled but hard swing have transformed him into a hitter with power.

As a freshman at Xavier in 2015, Bannon hit .194 (32-for-165) with five doubles, no triples, no home runs and 11 RBIs. Sophomore year, after a 0-for-16 start, he improved to .273 (56-for-205) with 17 doubles, eight homers and 32 RBIs. This spring, he hit .339 (75-for-221) with 14 doubles, three triples, 15 homers and 50 RBIs to help the Musketeers gain a regional berth.

Further indication of how much Bannon progressed: his on-base percentage during the three seasons at Xavier went from .284 to .390 to .449, and his slugging percentage jumped from .224 to .473 to .633. His stolen bases grew from four to seven to 17.

"I took the approach, especially after freshman year, that I was going to hit the ball hard," Bannon said. "I used to try to get base hits, and freshman year, I realized that approach wasn't translating. So I started trying to hit the ball harder."

A background in hockey helped Bannon on the diamond.

"I think hockey gave me really fast feet," he said. "Skating quickly from one end of the ice to the other basically is a sprint. And shooting the puck is good for forearm strength."

Bannon skated with the Joliet Jaguars and played hockey until his senior year at JCA. The fall, he decided to play baseball with a Cangelosi team instead, and he said that was "extremely beneficial."

After his freshman season at Xavier, he returned home, played with the Joliet Dirtbags and worked with hitting coaches who helped him start hitting the ball harder. Last summer, after his sophomore season, he enjoyed a successful run playing in Savanna, Georgia, and that led into his Big East Player of the Year season.

"Honestly, I was not expecting that [player of the year] at all," Bannon said. "I wasn't thinking about it. I always was focused on the next game and the next at-bat. It's an awesome award. I was shocked and very happy when my coach told me about it."

Bannon had contact with some professional scouts entering his junior year, so he knew he was being watched. And after the numbers he put up, being an eighth-round pick was not a huge surprise, but still was exciting.

"I didn't want to cloud my mind thinking about the draft," he said. "I'm extremely happy the Dodgers drafted me. The player development in their organization is awesome."

Bannon said regardless of how long his hot streak lasts, he said he will not be thinking about when he might move from Rookie ball to the Class A level.

"If I get moved up, it will be great, but I can't worry about it," he said. "Right now, I like where I am. Ogden is a scenic town. It's bigger than I thought, and there are mountains all around. The ballpark is great, and there are all good guys on our team."

• Dick Goss can be reached at dgoss@shawmedia.com.

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