Rangers' Eppley Rockets From 43rd Round To Texas
This is the first of a new series at Baseball America where we look at the scouting stories of players recently promoted to the big leagues for the first time.
Despite his status as a 43rd-round draft selection, Rangers righthander Cody Eppley
reached the big leagues in fewer than three years, well ahead of the pace charted by many of his fellow 2008 picks. The 25-year-old rode an express train to the big leagues despite spending time at every full-season level of the Rangers farm system.
For those reasons, as well as the fact that he's a side-arm reliever who throws three pitches, you might call Eppley a man of contradiction.
Texas called on the Triple-A Round Rock reliever when it placed closer Neftali Feliz
on the disabled list, slotting Eppley into low-leverage relief and elevating veterans Darren Oliver
and Arthur Rhodes
to a closer committee. Eppley made a strong initial impression, tossing two scoreless innings against the Royals in his major league debut on April 23. With Round Rock, he had struck out nine in 8 1/3 scoreless innings, holding righthanded batters hitless in 12 at-bats.
Before handing the ball to Eppley in the seventh inning, Rangers manager Ron Washington
placed his hand on the righthander's shoulder to gauge his level of nervousness. "He was just as cool as could be," said Russ Ardolina
, the Rangers scout who identified and signed Eppley as a Virginia Commonwealth senior. He works as a pro scout these days.
"He's a great story because a lot of people in this organization have had a role in his development. You root for guys like Cody Eppley."
The Rangers bestowed on Eppley the organization's first-ever minor league reliever of the year award in 2010, a season in which he shot from high Class A Bakersfield to Double-A Frisco to then-Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City. All told, he saved 16 games in 51 appearances, while striking out 10.6 batters per nine innings and walking just 3.0. He allowed 53 hits and three homers (all in Triple-A) in 69 1/3 innings.
Eppley's scouting reports backed up his fine performance. He sinks an average fastball at 88-90 mph and mixes a quality slider in the low 80s as well as a quality sinking changeup in the high 70s. Strong control binds the whole package together.
But back in 2008 Eppley was just another righthanded starter from the college ranks with good control and underwhelming fastball velocity, typically in the 86-88 mph range. "He was always a guy I had on my follow list," Ardolina said. "He was a good-looking pitcher at 6-foot-5, the type of guy where you're hoping the velocity would come later. He had a loose arm, so maybe you get a tick more down the road—maybe a 90.
"He was a premium strike-thrower with plus sink, so even though he had just 40 velocity (on the 20-80 scouting scale), he did have an average slider going for him. Late in the draft, you're looking for a tool, or two tools, that translate to what major leaguers do. And you're also looking for college seniors to help fill out your minor league clubs.
"So I thought, 'He's a good makeup kid who will represent the organization well. Let's just see what happens.' "
Eppley signed quickly after the draft (after which VCU coach Paul Keyes
called to thank Ardolina—a testament to Eppley's strong makeup) and didn't balk at an assignment to the Rookie-level Arizona League, where at 22 he was among the oldest players. Ardolina said: "For a lot of guys, they see the writing on the wall, so to speak, but Cody didn't take (the assignment) that way. I told him, 'You've got your shot.' "
Eppley won a quick admirer in AZL manager Bill Richardson
, who now serves in the same capacity with low Class A Hickory. The same goes for Danny Clark
, the organization's minor league pitching coordinator, who in 2008 instructional league first approached Eppley about lowering his three-quarters arm slot to side-arm.
Not only was Eppley receptive to the switch, he was able to execute his pitches and repeat his delivery from the new arm slot. "The big question is always, can they continue to get the same sink on the fastball and maintain the sharp tilt on the slider?" Ardolina said. "(Eppley) was able to do all those things."
Working as a 23-year-old reliever in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2009, Eppley proved just how effective he could be at the lowered slot. He struck out 76 batters in 67 2/3 innings for Hickory, while issuing just six walks to rank first among SAL relievers with 0.8 walks per nine innings.
Though admittedly biased, Ardolina liked what he saw of Eppley in '09. "He threw something like 21 of 26 pitches for strikes in the outing I saw. He was ultra-aggressive, with great mound presence and tempo. He could sink it and had a great slider, and he had come up with a better changeup. I put him in as a prospect."
Eppley's name came up again during the Rangers' 2009 organizational meetings in Arlington, where the front office and scouting staff met to talk about the major league team and all the system's prospects. General manager Jon Daniels
asked the group for a sleeper prospect who had not been discussed. Not wanting to lead with the fact that he signed him, Ardolina waited a few seconds before bringing up Eppley and stating his case. Keith Boeck
, the pro scout who had recommended Darren O'Day
, quickly seconded the suggestion, saying that Eppley reminded him of O'Day.
As a side-arm reliever who can retire both righties and lefties, O'Day—currently on the 60-day disabled list with a hip labrum injury—serves as a paradigm for aspirants like Eppley. It doesn't hurt that O'Day comes from his own modest beginnings—the former University of Florida closer originally signed with the Angels as a nondrafted free agent. "What has set O'Day apart is that he can work up in the zone against lefties," Ardolina said.
Encouragingly, Eppley retired four of the Royals' lefthanded batters in his big league debut, getting Chris Getz
, Melky Cabrera
and Alex Gordon
on groundouts and Wilson Betemit
on a popout.
"(Eppley's) changeup has separation and sink down to his arm-side," Ardolina said. "The biggest challenge for (righthanded side-armers) is to be deceptive to lefthanded hitters, so he likes to run his fastball down and away and then change speeds with the changeup in the same area."