Prospect Profile: Ryan Pope

Top GCL Prospects
The good ol' days

Ryan Pope | RHP

Born in Bradenton, FL, Pope was raised about 400 miles north in Savannah, GA. As you can probably guess, Pope grew up rooting for the Braves during the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz Era, and surely cursed the Bombers in 1996 & 1999. Pope wasn’t much of a prospect in high school, barely topping out at 82, and receiving nothing more than a quick glance from Division I recruiters. Pope took his act to the Savannah College of Art & Design, a school better known for producing Grammy Award winner Indie Arie & various items for The Real World than baseball players.

Pope had an uneventful freshman year, continuing to max out at 82 and doing very little to beef up his prospect status. SCAD pitching coach David Haverstick spent more time working with Pope as a sophomore, helping him smooth out his delivery and become more consistent with his pitches. Pope blossomed and emerged as the staff ace, finishing the year 6-2 with a then school record 1.89 ERA. Despite his newfound success, Pope still garnered little attention from D-1 recruiters looking for a transfer, let alone pro scouts looking for a prospect.

Pope went from being a very good pitcher as a sophomore to being an absolute beast as a junior. He allowed only 57 hits (12 XBH, all doubles) and 13 ER (23 R) in 102 IP (.162 BAA, 1.15 ERA), and compiled a 122-16 K/BB ratio. Pope made 14 starts for the Bees (and 1 relief appearance), registering a Bob Gibson-esque 14 complete games. He gave up 3 hits or less in 5 his 14 starts (it could be as many as 7; there’s some conflicting info out there on the netweb). Even though he finished with a rather pedestrian 9-5 record, his team scored only 1 run, 1 run, and 0 runs in his first 3 losses, respectively.

Pope’s list of amateur accomplishments is rather lengthy, so let’s do this bullet point-style:

  • First All-American in SCAD history.
  • Named 2007 Player of the Year by the Florida Sun Conference & NAIA Region XIV.
  • Named Florida Sun Conference Pitcher of the Week three times as a sophomore & four times as a junior.
  • Named Paul E. Poetter Male Athlete of the Year in 2006 & 2007.
  • Threw a no-hitter against Tennessee Temple University on Opening Day 2007, the second no-no in the program’s 17 year history.
  • Highest drafted player in history amongst current Florida Sun Conference schools.
  • Holds SCAD records for starts (42), complete games (32), innings (289.1), wins (24), strikeouts (284) and ERA (2.36).

The Yankees made Pope the first player to be drafted in SCAD history when they selected him with the final pick of the 3rd round (#124 overall) of the 2007 Draft (Red Sox farmhand Charlie Zink was signed as an undrafted free agent out of SCAD). Pope agreed to a $229,500 signing bonus in early July, exactly slot money.

Pro Debut
After signing, Pope headed to Short Season Staten Island and immediately joined the rotation, making his pro debut on July 14th. Because of all the complete games and the long layoff (SCAD’s season ended on May 1st), the Yankees put some strict restrictions on Pope initially, then gradually increased the length of his outings. He finished the regular season on an 6 IP/85 pitch limit.

Pope works with your garden variety fastball-changeup-curveball-slider repetoire. He regularly sits at 90-93 with his fastball, though there is a belief within the organization that he could beef that up to 92-95 once under professional instruction & conditioning programs. His changeup is a solid-average pitch and has some sink to it, tumbling down & away from lefties. His curveball & slider are nothing more than decent offerings at this point. He has dabbled with a cutter in the past, although he rarely used it as a junior.

Pope has a quick, very efficient delivery with some nice deception, and he repeats it on a consistent basis. I can best describe it as a cross between Kevin Brown’s & Frankie Rodriguez’s (go here to see it). The hard-to-please Carlos Gomez of Hardball Times fame loves the tempo & arm action of Pope’s motion. He has nice size (6’3″, 190 lbs) and a strong lower half, which certainly came in handy throwing all those complete games.

While Pope obliterated all who came before him in college, he was pitching in the NAIA and not, say, the SEC. There are questions about how he’ll fare against better competition (although he handled the NY-Penn League admirably), and he’ll have to prove to alot of non-believers that he’s legit along the way.

Pope may need to settle on one breaking ball if he fails to adequately improve his feel for each pitch. Knowing the Yanks, he’s likely to scrap the slider and work on his curveball. He’s got to work on the little things as well; holding runners, fielding his position, all the standard stuff that dominant college guys need to work on. He could stand to add a few pounds; a 162-game season is a far cry from the 14 starts a year he made at SCAD, even if he threw complete games each time out.

2008 Outlook
Despite the fact that the Yanks have one of, if not the deepest crop of minor league pitching in the game, there is only one obvious candidate for the High-A Tampa rotation next year: LHP Mike Dunn. The Yanks have the option of letting Pope “skip” Low-A ball and head straight to Tampa (I put skip in quotations because even though going from Short Season ball to High-A is technically skipping a level, the NY-Penn League regularly has more talented & more polished players than the South Atlantic League), or they can take it easy and let Pope pitch alongside Zach McAllister & Dellin Betances in Low-A Charleston. Regardless, Pope is primed for a quick ascent, and I could very well finish the year with Double-A Trenton.

My Take: I’m not ashamed to admit it: when the Yankees drafted Pope, I had absolutely no idea who he was, or that SCAD even had a baseball program. Heck, I didn’t even know SCAD existed. But the more and more I learned about Pope, the more I liked him. I love the potential 4-pitch mix, I like the deception & fast-twitch quirkiness of his delivery, and I’m ecstatic over his workhorse potential. Is he a future ace and a budding superstar? No, of course not. But I’ll tell ya, this kid’s got a chance to be a darn good pitcher for a pretty long time.

Top GCL Prospects
The good ol' days
  • Julie

    What a great way to add some content during an off day for the Yanks.

  • Mike R.

    Great profile Mike. I am a big Pope fan, but admit that same as you I wondered who this guy was and what kind of baseball program an Arts & Design school could have. I think Pope should definitely be pushed up to Tampa.

  • zack

    A low-A rotation of McAllister, Betances, and Pope would be a pretty darn good top 3. But why do you see Dellin heading to low A, just to get a full season under his belt?

    • Mike A.

      Nah, Dellin’s ready for it. There’s only so much he can learn in Extended Spring, he’s gotta get in some game action. Yeah he missed most of SI’s season, but what can you do. Can’t let that set him back too much.

  • Brian

    Wow. This is why I look at this site over the rest. Thanks. I get illegitimately excited about prospects like Pope just because he’s a high draft pick and his numbers look decent, but seeing reports like yours makes me legitimately excited. The Yankees just need to establish some working rotation of the future consisting of 14 guys if this all works out ;)

    • The Scout

      Not to worry: all 14 won’t work out. Never do. Some max out early, some get hurt..that’s why you can NEVER have too much pitching

  • Marc

    You know me.. Pope’s my new kid to watch… Im a big Gomez fan and love what he wrote about him.

  • Brian

    draft note from mlb site,
    looks like the lone member of 2000 draft class still with the yankees is sean henn; and that may be a foregone conclusion that class is dismissed. 2001 is still going strong with sardinha, shelley dunc, chase wright, andy cannizaro, charlie manning, and omir santos, if “strong” could be the operative word, shelley “slam” duncan’s high-fives aside.

  • Tripp

    I can’t wait for that rotation next year in Charleston. I live down here and will be going to the games a lot more.

  • Count Zero

    Nice profile Mike!

  • Carlos Gomez

    Excellent profile on Pope. I’m obiously following him quite closely and have had several conversations with Haverstick (his college pitching coach—who, by the way, is REALLY knowledgeable about mechanics) since Pope got drafted.

    I’m “hard-to-please’? LOL. I guess you could say that…..

    Excellent work once again.

  • Robert

    Pope looked great this past season with the Staten Island Yankees, I would not be surprised to see him start off in Tampa. Betances is another story, I do believe he will start out in Charleston (I was talking with one of the Yankee scouts and he mentioned something about it a while back). Also it looks as if the Yankees would have another right-handed relief pitcher next season as they are converting James LaSala into a pitcher (his fast ball topped out at 90 when they worked with him in 2007 season).

  • Ben

    I was one of the catchers at SCAD during the Pope Era. Catching him on an everyday basis and working with him makes me really appriciate the time I had. Not only did I catch for him, but he helped me improve my skills behind the dish. He really grew into a great college pitcher over two years. Give all the credit to coach ‘Hav’, (former pitching coach David Haverstick). A great guy he is and he really knows how to teach pitching from every aspect. Not to mention the man is about the size of NFL’s Brian Urlacher haha. As for Pope, his work ethic is outstanding. He would be working his butt off everyday of the week, and belive me Savannah is a hot, skicky, humid mess. He also has no attitude and is very coachable. Personally, I would like to see him keep his slider, only because he started doing it his junior year and I think we need more time for it to develope. I also want to tell you about his pick-off move. He has about the best pick-off move a righty can have. Last year he picked off a runner about 2/3rds of his starts to my recolection. And his defense is Rivera like. I had a great time in that program. The FSC is the most competitive NAIA conference, so most of his competition was high DII-low DI. And last thing I want to add is that he’s from Bradenton FL, NOT Savannah.

    SCAD has two other big pitchers who are in their Senior year for ’08. and a huge junior lefty who toped 93 last time I talked to him. Im not gonna realease their names. But keep an eye on SCAD baseball program because I think the baseball world will be hearing more from them.
    I hope this former teammate’s input was insightful for y’all.

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