PORT CHARLOTTE — Ryan Hanigan has plenty of other interests.
He recently got involved with show dogs and had one earn a Best of Breed ribbon at last week's Westminster Kennel Club show. He buys and breeds horses, including a filly that won a 2012 race at Tampa Bay Downs. He enjoys golf, fishing and traveling. He has a background in education, with a father who was an FBI agent and a mother who taught and worked at a college. He likes a good book and the occasional deep conversation, delving into a favorite subject of philosophy, particularly existentialism, especially Nietzsche.
But as the Rays officially opened spring training Saturday, it's the extensive interest Hanigan has shown in learning and working with his new pitchers that has been a primary topic of conversation and admiration.
"He works hard, and you can tell he has those intangibles," ace David Price said. "He wants to help our pitching staff."
Traded from the Reds to the Rays in December, Hanigan, 33, came down from his Boston area home to St. Petersburg in mid January so he could catch the pitchers who were working out at the Trop, wanting to see firsthand every detail from how the ball comes out of their hand, moves and breaks to how it bounces in the dirt.
More extensively, he sought access to the team's proprietary system in order to watch video of the pitchers' past performances, practically every game against American League East opponents, to get a better handle on preferred sequences and patterns along with hitter tendencies.
"It takes a little time to get to know people and get that relationship built, but he kind of sped that process up," starter Alex Cobb said. "That first bullpen I threw to him, he was already talking about stuff I did in the past and stuff he would like to see us try to build on and to try some new things.
"When you hear that right out of the gate the first time you throw a bullpen, you have nothing but trust for that guy, and you know he's working as hard as he can off the field as well as on the field to get that relationship built to the level it needs to be at."
Hanigan, who had been with the Reds his whole career, doesn't see it as a big deal.
"I didn't expect any accolades for any of that," he said. "That's just part of the job. Once I signed I should do some work, and the guys were around. It was just something I figured was probably the right thing to do."
Having admired Hanigan from afar for years, the Rays arranged the December trade, signed him to a long-term deal that with a 2017 option is worth $13.7 million and installed him as the primary catcher, shifting Jose Molina back to reserve duty and last week trading Jose Lobaton.
Defense was a big draw, as Hanigan excels in all areas behind the plate, ranking as the active leader in catchers ERA (3.63) and among the top three in fielding percentage (.995) and caught-stealing percentage (36.3). "A very good catcher in all components of the game," manager Joe Maddon said.
And though Hanigan struggled through an injury-marred 2013 season, hitting .198 with two homers and 21 RBIs in 75 games, the Rays are equally excited by his offensive profile. Of particular interest is his proficiency in putting the ball in play and his plate discipline, having logged more walks than strikeouts for six straight years. "Kind of an interesting cat," Maddon said.
And word from Cincinnati is that Hanigan is an impressive clubhouse presence as well. Maddon had heard good things from Rays officials and Reds manager, and former pitching coach, Bryan Price. And Maddon's initial impressions have been excellent.
"I talked to Ryan Hanigan for five minutes the other day and I thought I knew him for the last 10 years," Maddon said.
Hanigan has done well to get this far, undrafted out of Boston-area Andover High, taking advantage of an American Legion coach's connections to get to Division II Rollins College in Winter Park and playing three years for the Tars, then showing well enough in the Cape Cod league to get signed in August 2002 by the Reds. He made it to the majors by 2007 and eventually earned frontline status.
"People like to throw to him, and that typically comes from trust and success," Price said. "He has a great feel."
At each stage, hard work has been vital to Hanigan's success. And that obviously remains a primary area of interest.
"You've got to put in the homework," Hanigan said. "I don't want to be guessing out there. I want to have a plan, and I want the pitcher to know I have a plan and have confidence in me."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.