Name: Cody Eppley
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: October 8, 1985
Acquired: 2008 Amateur Draft, 43rd round
When Cody Eppley entered the Texas Rangers organization as a 43rd-round pick out of Virginia Commonwealth, he was a standard right-handed starting pitcher, throwing over the top and attacking hitters with a three-pitch mix.
Just over two years later, Eppley is knocking on the door of the big leagues as a sidearming reliever.
Teams often convert pitchers to a sidearm slot as a last-ditch effort to save the player's career. That was the case for Eppley, who came into Spring Training in 2009 with decreased velocity.
"I was like a high-three quarters––maybe right around three-quarters––guy," Eppley said. "I had some sink on it. My velocity was alright, but coming back in the spring, it wasn't really there. Danny Clark and Scott Servais saw some stuff with how the ball moved and the sink that it got. They thought, 'Let's try to move it down.'
"They tilted me over at the waist a little bit. I kind of keep the same arm slot, but it just makes a little more deception. They wanted to see if I could get a little more natural sink out of it, and it worked well with me."
Eppley didn't begin working with his new mechanics until the last week of Spring Training that season. After about two weeks at Extended Spring Training, he joined the Single-A Hickory bullpen and went on to post a 2.93 ERA over 67.2 innings, walking six and striking out 76.
The early returns were strong, but it wasn't until 2010 that the reliever broke out as a legitimate prospect.
Eppley began last season at High-A Bakersfield. He started the year with 18 consecutive shutout frames, walking one and fanning 24. The performance earned him a quick promotion to Double-A Frisco.
When the dust settled on the 2010 campaign, Eppley had reached Triple-A Oklahoma City. Between three stops, he compiled a 2.08 ERA over 51 appearances, surrendering just 53 hits in 69.1 frames.
"It was definitely a whirlwind with the way the whole season went," Eppley said. "From moving all around, I was definitely all over the place and all over the country. But I wouldn't have changed it at all because it was an awesome year. I was happy with what I was able to do."
Whether Eppley was pitching at High-A or Triple-A, his deceptive arm slot and sinker-slider mix proved to be a difficult task for right-handed batters. During his time with Oklahoma City, fellow righties were just 14-for-67 (.209) with two extra-base hits and 23 strikeouts against him.
As Eppley moved through the system last season, his stuff also improved. The prospect attacked hitters with an 85-88 mph fastball while he was with Bakersfield. The velocity jumped into the 88-91 mph range after his promotion to Frisco.
Eppley believes the increased velocity was simply a product of experience.
"I think I got a little more comfortable throwing," he said. "I got a little more confidence under my belt. I think just being able to get more comfortable in my throwing motion and having that confidence was something that helped me. I started letting the ball go and trusting my stuff a little more."
Eppley's success against right-handed hitters alone may give him a future in the big leagues. But he also wants to improve against left-handed batters. The sidearm slot isn't as deceptive to southpaws––while righties have trouble picking the ball up, left-handers are able to see it the whole way.
In order to get lefties out with more frequency, Eppley knows he'll have to give them a different look.
"I have to keep getting my changeup better to left-handers mostly," Eppley said. "And I want to throw that to right-handers too. But I need to have an offspeed pitch that falls away from left-handers.
"And I've also been working on a four-seam fastball that I'm able to throw up at a left-hander's hands to keep them from leaning out over the plate and to keep them honest a little bit better. Those are two things I've been working on this offseason so far to get better against left-handed hitters."
After getting 28.2 innings of experience at the Triple-A level last season, Eppley may not need much more seasoning in the minors. The Rangers have already given him a non-roster invitation to big league camp.
"I was excited when I got the news," he said. "I've definitely worked hard to get to where I'm at. But I was definitely really excited. I'm sure it's going to be a blast to be around all those guys up there."
As a sidearmer with a potential future in Arlington, Eppley understandably draws some comparisons to current sidewinding Rangers reliever Darren O'Day. Given the similarities between the two, Eppley says he looks forward to learning from O'Day this spring.
"I'd like to definitely talk to O'Day and pick his brain on how he pitches to certain hitters, how he sets guys up, and what he tries to do up there."
With a 1.99 ERA in his two seasons with Texas, O'Day has earned a reputation as one of baseball's top sidearm relievers. His work certainly hasn't gone unnoticed to Eppley, who studies O'Day with every chance he gets.
"Every time I can see a video clip of him, I watch him throw and see what he does," Eppley said. "I definitely try to do that because we do throw very similar. Just to be able to sit back and watch what he does is a great thing for me. Not only can I see how he throws, but then I can actually visualize it and have something to look at. It makes it easier to know what I want to do."
Also See: Rangers Minor League Notes (March 18, 2010)
Bakersfield bats end losing streak (April 30, 2010)
Command, sink carry Eppley to fast start (May 4, 2010)
Eppley cruises to Double-A (May 22, 2010)
Eppley continues quick rise (July 19, 2010)
Rangers 2010 breakout prospects (December 23, 2010)
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball: The sidearming Eppley throws a heavy sinking fastball between 88-91 mph. He initially worked at 85-88 mph after becoming a sidearmer during Spring Training in '09, but the velocity ticked up around mid-May last season. Eppley attributed the improvement to becoming more comfortable with his unorthodox mechanics and arm slot.
The added velocity helped sharpen the already strong sink on Eppley's fastball. He attacks the bottom-half of the zone with the pitch, leading to nearly 3.6 groundouts per flyout between the High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A levels in 2010. He also began working on a four-seam fastball to combat left-handed batters late last season. Eppley could stand to refine his command just slightly, though he projects to have plus command and control.
Other Pitches: The velocity spike also applied to his promising slider. Eppley began the 2010 campaign by throwing his slider at 74-78 mph, but it was sitting between 78-80 mph after his promotion to Frisco. Like most sidearm breaking balls, Eppley's slider is a sweeping pitch with side-to-side break and little depth.
With late break and excellent deception, his slider is a plus swing-and-miss pitch against righties. Eppley fanned 61 of the 163 right-handers (37%) that stepped into the box against him last season. While he has good command of the offering to righties, he is still working to command it as a backdoor pitch against left-handed batters.
Eppley also mixes in the occasional changeup, a pitch he is looking to develop in order to keep left-handed hitters from leaning over the plate and sitting on his fastball.
Projection: Eppley profiles as a future middle reliever with a Darren O'Day-like ceiling as somewhat of a righty specialist. His long 6-foot-5 frame and sidearm delivery create plenty of deception, as he appears to release the ball behind right-handed hitters. The deception and sinker-slider mix limited righties to a punchless .147/.210/.180 slash line last season. The 25-year-old is close to being a finished product, though he is still refining his command of all three pitches to lefties.
2011 Outlook: Eppley currently holds a non-roster invitation to big league Spring Training, showing that he could be in the Rangers' plans at some point in 2011. Regardless, the hurler will almost certainly begin the season in the bullpen at Triple-A Round Rock. He got over 28 innings of experience at the level last summer. To take the next step, he'll look to continue refining his command while also improving against lefties.
|2008||AZL Rangers (RK)||2-2||25.2||19||5||34||2.10|
|Oklahoma City (AAA)||2-1||28.2||32||13||31||4.08|
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