If numbers don’t lie, then there’s no way Ryan Bliss should be the regular second baseman for the Amarillo Sod Poodles in 2023.
Numbers say that while with the Arizona Diamondbacks Class A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in 2022, Bliss hit only .214. There are any number of reasons for that, but there’s no getting around Bliss being listed at 5-foot-6, 165 pounds on the Sod Poodles roster.
After spending an entire season in Hillsboro, though, Bliss got his crack at Double A ball when he made the Sod Poodles opening day roster. The numbers still don’t lie.
This time they say that as of Thursday, Bliss was batting .366, leading the Texas League in hitting by an astonishing 37 points. He also had almost equaled his run production numbers through all of last season with nine home runs and 34 RBIs as the team’s leadoff hitter and was recognized as the Texas League player of the month for May.
Whatever troubles Bliss suffered most of last season in Hillsboro, he’s completely shed them in Amarillo.
“My expectations were to just kind of get the ball rolling this year,” said Bliss, a second round pick out of Auburn by the Diamondbacks in 2021. “I didn’t want to start off too slow like I did last year. I’ve been able to withhold that throughout the year. The biggest thing was to be a good teammate and try to win and we’ve been doing that.”
Not only has Bliss gotten the ball rolling, it’s been knocking over everything in sight like bowling pins on a greased lane. Prior to a loss to South Division leader San Antonio on Wednesday at Hodgetown, the Sod Poodles had won a franchise record seven straight games and 13 of their previous 15.
Bliss has been a major catalyst in this recent charge, and when the Soddies returned home Monday after sweeping a six-game series at Midland the previous week, he immediately showed why. He hit his fifth leadoff homer of the season to get the Sod Poodles en route to a 10-2 victory.
Whether it’s been a homer or a base hit to get things going and spark the rest of the lineup, Bliss has kept the formula the same with each at-bat.
“I told myself I’ve got to get consistent with my swing,” Bliss said. “I sort of found it later in the year last year and I just wanted to build off that. I started pretty rough, and I needed to make some changes.
“The biggest thing was to make sure I had an approach at the beginning of the year that I could go back to. Whenever something was going well, I wanted to know what was going on.”
It seems everybody knows what’s going on with Bliss now, as his numbers can’t be ignored. As would be expected from a leadoff hitter, he also leads the Sod Poodles with 19 stolen bases.
This season is a sign that Bliss is hitting the strides expected of him when the Diamondbacks made him the 42nd pick of the Major League Baseball draft in 2021.
“We heard a lot of really great things about Ryan,” Sod Poodles manager Shawn Roof said. “We knew he was a leader and a really talented baseball player. When a guy makes a jump to the next level you never know what to expect. You there’s going to be a learning curve. He got three hits the first game and he hasn’t looked back. I say when he goes, we go, and it’s been a lot of fun watching him play.”
After last season at Hillsboro, Bliss came back with something to prove heading into spring training in Arizona. If he was going to climb up the Diamondbacks ladder, he had to show something from February to April.
It was enough to get him a ticket to Amarillo.
“They definitely saw the progress I had in spring training, and they were very happy about the strides I was making,” Bliss said. “The biggest thing for me was not that I was thinking it would get me to Double-A, it was I had a swing that I knew that I liked, and wherever I was going to go I knew I was going to have an approach that would feel comfortable to me.”
Bliss has definitely gotten comfortable in Amarillo, both at the plate and in the field. It helps that he has some familiar faces around him from Hillsboro last season, most notably Jordan Lawlar.
The No. 1 prospect in the Diamondbacks organization at shortstop, Lawlar played with Bliss for a month in Hillsboro. Lawlar and Bliss could possibly be Arizona’s double play combo in a couple of years.
“I think he’s a great communicator, and that’s big, especially up the middle,” said Lawlar of Bliss. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover and we’re trying to lead the defense. We’ve had great communication from day one. He’s a great competitor. I’d love to stick with him.”
Prior to the season, Bliss was ranked the Diamondbacks No. 29 prospect. He’s surely climbed higher on Arizona’s totem pole based on his performance so far in Amarillo.
With such a huge lead in the Texas League batting race, it’s a legitimate question to ask when Bliss will be packing his bags in Amarillo and heading to Triple A Reno. After a tough year last season in Hillsboro, Bliss doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.
“I don’t want to think about it,” Bliss said. “I’ve been telling everybody all year I’ve been very happy to have some success. I’m able to have a swing which is consistent, and I just want to learn as much wherever I can and we’ll see what happens. Whenever I’m called up I will be ready.”
Roof thinks the same way. He knew that after three games Bliss could get to some tough fastballs and knew when to lay off the off-speed pitches.
“He’s ready to hit from pitch one,” Roof said. “He’s not looking to draw a walk but he does get walks. He’s selective-aggressive, and when he gets that pitch in the zone he’s able to drive it. You always like to have a guy who can get on base to start the game.”
Bliss did more than that to start the current home series against San Antonio, when he took Jackson Wolf’s fourth pitch of the game the opposite way onto the right field berm to start the scoring.
That’s the opposite of what might be expected of a right-handed hitter like Bliss at Hodgetown, especially if the wind’s blowing out to left field. It shows the rewards of adapting, which Bliss has had to do in the past year.
“My first at-bats are the ones where I’m trying to be the most simple and trying to get on base and hit something hard,” Bliss said. “Let’s just settle in, but I’ve been able to put some balls out. That’s just the approach I’ve had all year and it’s been working out.”
For the younger fans who come to Hodgetown, Bliss can serve as a role model in a very basic way. No matter how you slice it, he’s the smallest player on the Sod Poodles roster.
Bliss is proud of his can-do attitude, even if he says he’s 5-7, an inch taller than the roster lists him. “Especially in my cleats I think I’m a little bit taller,” Bliss quipped.
He says that Mookie Betts has been his role model as a smaller player growing up in LaGrange, Ga. Bliss says he had his share of naysayers about his size in high school.
“I heard it mostly when I was a little younger,” Bliss said. “My biggest thing was I just had to prove it. I haven’t heard that since the end of my high school career going into college. I’ve shown that size doesn’t matter. I’ve proven to people that I can do this.”
And his numbers, big or small, are telling the truth.