BRADENTON, FLA. – Fifth year Pirates right-handed pitcher Ryan Hafner is ready to lead his ball club.
Originally drafted out of Lee Summit West High School in the 17th round, the six-foot-6, 205-pound Hafner has put previous struggles behind him.
Hafner went winless in his third season in the minor leagues going 0-11, but bounced back nicely in his fourth season going 7-0 working out of the bullpen.
“I think a lot of the credit has to go to the coaching staff, they had a lot of faith in me,” said Hafner during the first day of Pirates minor league camp at Bradenton, Fla.
“They kept staying positive with me, there was no added pressure so I could just go out there free last season.”
Hafner is quick to credit his pitching coach for the West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic league Jeff Johnson of Class A ball for his renewed success and changed approach.
“A lot of it was mental. I learned to just go out there and trust my stuff,” Hafner said.
“If you do good then great, and if not then there is always another outing so don’t stress about one pitch.”
Not all the credit should go to his coaches; Hafner has put in a lot of work this last offseason to continue to improve heading into this year.
“This offseason I tried to maintain composure and consistency,” said Hafner. “That was the big thing. Throwing program after throwing program, getting consistent from the windup and in the stretch.”
The extra work and new mindset has paid off so far, and Hafner, who is expected to be a starter this season, is ready to help his club get to the next level.
“I just want to be a leader on the team and help us reach our maximum potential and bring a championship to the Pirates organization.”
Now in his fourth spring training Hafner is used to the daily routine, but he says having a close group of players allows them to get the most out of each workout pushing each other to get better.
“This year we are by far the closest group, we have a ton of leaders out there this year. You can tell guys out there are taking charge, and I think it’s a relief to the coaching staff because guys will hold each other accountable.”
The closeness of the group also allows the players to support each other when things don’t go according to plan.
“If you have a rough outing you always have one or two guys to fall back on to say ‘you’re alight, shake it off it’s no big deal’ and that’s huge.”
With a new outlook and support from his coaches and teammates, Hafner is primed to have another successful season