Written by Biko Skalla:
Some of my sources in the Bananas front office are already calling Connor Higgins and Ryan Kellogg the Bash Bros of Bananaland, which is troubling for the guy who literally just anointed Eric Jones and Dan Oberst with the same nickname in my last article. But the pair of 6’5″ and 6’6″ lefties respectively may actually be worthy of the incredible nickname even without either throwing a pitch yet for the Nanners.
Both spent three years at Arizona State University before hearing their names called on draft day. Kellogg grew up in Whitby, Ontario, Canada, and besides for playing in some elite travel tournaments and for the Canadian National Team, he had never spent any serious time in the US before committing to ASU. Ryan chose to be a Sun Devil, a 33 hour journey by car from his home, instead of signing with the Toronto Blue Jays who drafted him in the 12th round in 2012 and play less than an hour from him.
“My parents had both gone out because we figured I wasn’t going to be drafted and then the Blue Jays called with their offer,” Ryan said with a chuckle. “But it was below the number we felt like would be worth it for me to skip school and the Blue Jays were relaxed in saying, ‘We completely understand, hopefully we’ll get you again in three years.'”
They wouldn’t get the chance because after three terrific seasons in Tempe and two dominant summers in the Cape Cod League, Kellogg was selected in the 5th round in 2015 by the Chicago Cubs.
“That was a special day,” Ryan said. “I had my mom, dad, and sister fly down and I really got to thank my parents for all the sacrifices they made to get me to where I was that day. All the hard work, long hours, and dedication had paid off.”
Ryan made it up to Triple-A with the Cubs in the last year of his contract in 2021 while also pitching for the Canadian National Baseball Team. He elected free agency at the end of the season and played for the Wild Health Genomes in Lexington, Kentucky, in the Atlantic League last summer.
“That was a blast because we had everyone from Khris Davis who led Major League Baseball in homers in 2018 to Clayton Mehlbauer who had graduated college last spring,” Ryan said. “There were guys from the DR, a player from Japan who had spent eight years in their top league and was trying to make it to the show here. It was a really fun experience.”
The Bananas brass are hoping Ryan can pitch for the Nanners against the Florence Y’alls on May 15th, the only barrier being when his visa goes through. Worst case scenario is they think Kellogg would debut against the Party Animals in Las Vegas May 19th or 20th.
“I’m fired up to be pitching in front of sold out crowds all across the country,” Ryan told me. “I never really understood how serious the competition was until Higgins saw the game in person last week and told me these are legit ballplayers out here. (Dalton) Cornett and (Josh) Lavender raved about the experience as well so I really can’t wait to get going at this point.”
Connor Higgins missed Kellogg by a year at ASU, starting in Tempe the fall of 2015. Hailing from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Higgins was a PROBLEM on the mound at Parkland High School. Connor was not scored upon as a senior and he graduated as the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts and ERA. Like Kellogg, Higgins had success as a Sun Devil and in the Cape, and because he turned 21 within 90 days of the 2017 MLB Draft he was eligible to be selected after his sophomore campaign.
“I went out for my second inning in the Cape on Opening Day and someone told me the Rangers took me in the 35th round,” Connor said. “I thought they were messing with me, I couldn’t believe it. They were like, ‘You’ve gotta get out of this game dude!'”
Higgins wasn’t ready to leave ASU and he bet on himself to be taken higher the following year so just like the first time Kellogg was drafted, he said thanks but no thanks. His junior year he got a new pitching coach who fooled around with his mechanics causing Connor to lose about five miles-per-hour on his pitches and it turned out to be his worst year there. Still, the Los Angeles Angels saw the potential and took him in the 30th round in 2018. This time Higgins was ready to rumble.
Connor rose quickly, establishing himself as the closer for the AA Rocket City Trash Pandas to start out year three where he recorded the first save in franchise history. Higgins would finish the year at Triple-A and had his eyes set on a big league debut in 2022.
Then he strained his oblique in his first outing of Spring Training and the timeline was thrown off course. After rehabbing from his injury the Angels said they were ready to see him throw some live batting practice.
“They had me facing Mike Trout and Taylor Ward with Joe Madden behind the plate and what felt like the whole front office in the stands,” Connor remembered. “Welcome back kid, here’s one of the best hitters in baseball history.”
As daunting of a task as it was, Higgins said he threw well and after only one more bullpen they sent him to Double-A. But once he was back to game action it turned out the injury had thrown off his mechanics so much he could barely find the zone. After just 16.2 lackluster innings the Angels told Connor he was going to be released.
His rookie ball pitching coach had a connection in the Australian Baseball League and Higgins packed his bags for The Land Down Under. As the closer for the Perth Heat he picked up 5 saves and helped the team to a championship appearance.
“I had an absolute blast down there,” Connor said. “I fell in love with the game again. Coaches weren’t messing with me at all I was just pitching how I wanted to and had a ton of success again. That was a necessary confidence boost for me.”
Within six days of returning to the United States the Diamondbacks had him pitching for them in Spring Training. But that was a rude welcome back into the cutthroat world of affiliated ball.
“I kind of got a weird vibe from them from the jump,” Connor told me. “I only got in two intersquads and one game against the Rockies. I had three scoreless innings and at the end of Spring Training they told me I was being cut. They said it was all the walks but I hadn’t walked anybody.”
Since then there has been a lot of interest from a few MLB clubs but with the new CBA limiting organizational roster limits more than ever, none have been ready to cut any of the 180 guys they have to sign Connor.
Then he woke up to a direct message from Bananas Coordinator of Baseball Operations, Berry Aldridge. He had never watched a Bananas game before but had seen plenty of highlights on social media. Berry convinced him to take the trip to Savannah, throw some live BP to a few hitters, and take in a game as a fan.
“Banana Ball feels like freedom on the diamond,” Connor said, beaming. “The end goal is still to make the majors, but after seeing how good the players are on this tour, feeling the energy of the crowd, and seeing the endless smiles everywhere I looked in Savannah, I realized I’d be a fool to not jump at this opportunity.”
Higgins made his Banana Ball debut Thursday night against the Kansas City Monarchs, throwing a scoreless 8th inning while striking out two and reaching 94 mph on the fastball.
”It’s been 5 or 6 years since I pitched in front of a crowd that large and having them all on our side in Kansas City was amazing,” Connor said. “I’m really happy to have gotten through with no runs and have that first outing under my belt.”
Bada Bing, Bada Boom. That is the magic of Bananaland and Berry Aldridge, who has been the puppet master behind every professional team the Bananas have ever fielded. He has added two tremendous southpaws with a combined 12 years of affiliated experience plus 13 feet and 11 inches of height. Kellogg is crafty, high 80’s to low 90’s with the fastball, while also throwing a slider, curve, and his best pitch in the arsenal: a changeup. Higgins will pump in a low-mid 90’s heater, maxing out at 99.4 mph, and he hopes to finally hit 100 when the Bananas and Party Animals battle in Las Vegas.
Vinny DeRubeis was the first lefty besides for Bill Lee to throw for the Bananas on the tour when he made his debut on the bump last Wednesday night. We should see Higgins this weekend in Kansas City and hopefully Kellogg on May 15th when the Florence Y’alls come to Savannah. The Bash Bros of Bananaland are coming. How the turns table.