Prospect Profile: Ryan PopeBy
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.
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.
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.