Entering Friday, Low-A Visalia only had three games remaining on the 2021 schedule. Like Minor Leaguers everywhere, members of the Rawhide have been searching for one final upbeat moment to carry with them into the offseason ahead.
Ryan Bliss found just the thing Friday night.
“I’ve got videos on this game,” he said over the phone. “I’m going to save these videos and go back to the night where I felt great. I’m going to go into the offseason really remembering this swing and doing everything I can to make sure that’s the swing I have every time I’m at the plate.”
The D-backs’ No. 14 prospect hit for the cycle during a 4-for-5 performance to lead Visalia to a 7-3 win over Rancho Cucamonga at LoanMart Field. He drove in a pair of runs and scored a pair as well as the second batter and starting shortstop in the Rawhide lineup.
The milestone evening got off to the perfect start when the right-handed slugger lifted the very first pitch he saw from Quakes right-handed starter Nick Nastrini over the opposite-field wall in right-center. The resulting homer was Bliss’s sixth since joining Visalia on Aug. 3.
“I’ve been working really hard the last few weeks, the last month on trying to stay up the middle or to the right side and putting everything on a line,” Bliss said. “It’s all about swinging and staying down on the ball, creating max spin. Tonight on the home run, I really felt that in that swing, and it really trickled on through the rest of the night.”
That said, the 5-foot-9 infielder actually was most proud of the double that came in his second at-bat in the third inning. Nastrini tried to spin a 1-1 slider past Bliss, but the Rawhide batter was able to lace a hit down the third-base line. If being able to drive the ball over the wall on the first pitch was a promising sign, an extra-base hit off a tough breaking ball all but sealed the deal, at least for Bliss.
“That was my favorite at-bat tonight,” he said.
Bliss added an RBI triple in the sixth, leaving only the single left over the final three frames. He grounded out to third in the seventh in his first attempt to turn the trick and almost didn’t get a second chance until Channy Ortiz reached on an error in front of him with two outs in the ninth. Bliss worked a 3-1 count before singling up the middle for the fourth hit, not only completing the cycle but also giving him a career high in pro ball for knocks in a single game.
“Oh, 100 percent,” Bliss said of whether the cycle was on his mind in the final innings. “You try not to think about it. You’re trying to win. But it’s baseball, it’s hard not to, especially when you’ve got your teammates. The crowd understood it too. It was definitely an adrenaline rush.”
Arizona took Bliss in the second round of the 2021 Draft after three impressive seasons at Auburn. Despite his size, the former Tiger particularly broke out in the power department this spring, hitting .365/.428/.654 with 15 homers in 50 games as a junior. He has had some difficulty carrying those results over to the pro game thus far, though it’s early in his budding career. After Friday’s performance, Bliss is hitting .257/.319/.446 with 15 extra-base hits through 35 games in Visalia.
The way he sees it, this is just laying the groundwork for the production still to come in the D-backs system.
“I’m just continuing what I was doing in the spring with college ball,” Bliss said. “I did have to make some adjustments in pro ball. Obviously, it’s different. But I’m having the same mindset and approach of trying to stay through balls and not as much lift balls as hit hard line drives and doubles to the gaps. Let my hands and power take over, and that’s what’s happening here.”
For all the success that had come before Friday at other levels, there was still a milestone awaiting the talented slugger. Soon, he’ll be reviewing it on highlight reels for months to come.
“After tee ball, high school, college, this was my first cycle,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to have it in my first pro season.”