Healthy Siegel using his head with Mercyhurst
Restoring a reputation as one of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference's elite batters became the top priority for Mercyhurst outfielder Ryan Siegel as soon as his injury-marred redshirt sophomore season ended last year.
Siegel rehabilitated his injured ankle and hand in the months that followed, but what he strengthened most in the past 12 months was his mind for the game.
Siegel is back in the business of putting up the kind of numbers that earned him PSAC West Freshman of the Year and National Collegiate Baseball Writers' Association Atlantic Region Freshman of the Year honors in 2012.
But the Siegel of 2014 is not the same as the 2012 version, he said.
The redshirt junior, a Freeport grad, is smarter, and his playing style now reflects a more advanced understanding of offensive strategy.
The Lakers (19-9), who have 13 games left in the regular season, look for Siegel, the No. 2 batter in the team's lineup, to create scoring opportunities and pass along scouting reports to batters later in the order.
No longer hampered by an aching left hand or a swollen left ankle, Siegel has shined offensively as he leads the team in batting average (.382) is second in slugging percentage (.480) and is tied for third in on-base percentage (.447). He also has team-highs in runs scored (27) and stolen bases (12).
“It was a big relief to be able to get in there and see pitches and have the type of explosion in my hands that I used to have,” said Siegel, who suffered a season-ending injury as a redshirt freshman when his hand was hit by a pitch in April of 2012. “That hand injury, it was still lingering a little bit (last season).”
An ankle injury caused by an awkward head-first slide in 2013 led to further trouble for Siegel, who missed 12 games during a stretch in March and watched his offensive production fall considerably in several categories from his first season to his second.
He finished with a .389 batting average and a .543 slugging percentage in 2012, and a year later, those numbers dropped to .279 and .333.
Signs of Siegel's resurgence emerged this summer. Playing for the Martha's Vineyard Sharks of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, he was the batting champ (.373 average) and had the second-best on-base percentage (.465).
“That experience really was irreplaceable,” Siegel said. “I worked on the things that I knew I needed to work on, like cutting down strikeouts and taking what the game gives me, not trying to do too much at the plate ever.
“Sometimes the opportunity just calls for just moving the guy over and trying to get a knock. You let the guys behind you do the work. Whereas my freshman year, I didn't think through the game as much as I do now.”
Siegel's poise at the plate motivated Mercyhurst coach Joe Spano to move Siegel to the No. 2 slot in the order, a place he reserves for what he considers the best batter on the team. Siegel previously batted at No. 1, 3, 4, 5 or 6 in his college career.
“You can move runners without giving up an out with him,” Spano said.
“When someone is hitting close to .400, it's hard to say there's a lot more potential, but I really do think there is with him. If a Major League team takes a chance on him, I really think the sky is the limit. He has a lot of pop in his bat. ... The more he matures, the more confidence he has, and I think with that you'll see the power numbers jump.”
Siegel has spoken with MLB scouts since late in his high school days.
Though a professional career seems as attainable as ever, Siegel tries not to let his attention stray from his duties with the Lakers. A straight-A student, Siegel knows there's also so much more to learn about baseball's finer points.
“The struggles last year might be the best thing that ever happened to me,” Siegel said. “I really learned how to fail that season. I would say that you can't be a good baseball player until you learn to fail.
“It's a game built on failure, and you might go 0 for 10, but you hit seven line drives right at people. I wasn't really equipped to handle that after my freshman year, but I really learned that sometimes it's not going to fall and things aren't going to go right. That's the beauty of a long season.”