2,414 vs. 1: Ryan Atkinson’s stunning rise to 2018 Spring Training

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The 2016 MLB Draft spurred Ryan Atkinson to prove he could still pitch. Nineteen months later, he has a 2018 MLB Spring Training invitation in hand. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

Two years ago, Ryan Atkinson wasn’t pitching. He was a patient services manager at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, moving on with post-mound life. Nineteen months later, the right-hander is trying to pull off an improbably fast rocket ride to the Major Leagues. As a non-roster invitee to Major League Spring Training, he has a shot to make the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2018 Opening Day roster.

Go back to the 2015 MLB Draft. 632 pitchers and 579 position players were selected, but of those 1,211 picks, only 11 have already made their Major League debuts. Baseball fans know some of those names: Andrew Benintendi, Alex Bregman, Paul de Jong, Dansby Swanson, and Ian Happ all came from the 2015 draft. There’s even a former General, 2016 Jackson hurler Andrew Moore, in that elite eleven.  To ascend quickly, you have to be special, and people usually know it. Those six were chosen in the top four rounds.

Ryan Atkinson, a 2015 graduate of the University of Cincinnati, was not among the 1,211 draftees in 2015. Nor was he one of the 1,214 draft choices in June 2016 (634 of whom were pitchers). He hadn’t thrown a baseball in the twelve months prior to the 2016 draft.

Atkinson signed with Arizona–undrafted in eighty rounds over two years–in 2016. He ranked 13th in Minor League Baseball in strikeouts in 2017.

How does that happen?

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Jared Miller Overcomes Rough Start To 2017, Earns 40-Man Roster Spot

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2017 Generals reliever Jared Miller overcame a scuffling April, dropping his ERA almost 5.00 points over the next two months. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

At six-foot-seven, Jared Miller is decidedly big. And in 2018, the 2017 Jackson General may reach an even greater height: big-league reliever.

After completing a 2017 campaign that featured a 2.93 ERA in 70.2 innings between Jackson and Triple-A Reno, Arizona made the 24-year-old Miller the youngest pitcher on their 40-man roster in November. As a consequence of that early Christmas present, the former Vanderbilt Commodore will get the chance to prove himself worthy of a Major League look in 2018 Spring Training.

“I was at home [in Indianapolis], hanging out. I think the 40-man deadline was around seven o’clock that night,” Miller said of getting the news. “I was expecting to be added, but I didn’t get a call until pretty close to that deadline, so you kind of get anxious and start to wonder if they have different plans or what’s going on. But then I got the call from [Diamondbacks vice president of player development] Mike Bell, and the good news followed that.”

April, The Cruelest Month

Believe it or not, Miller’s 2017 season began at Jackson in choppy seas. His second outing of the year saw him give up three earned runs in one inning of work against Birmingham, as the Generals’ bullpen allowed the Barons to rally from a two-run deficit for the win.

Miller knuckled down for three straight scoreless appearances thereafter, but a nightmarish April 20 outing against Montgomery gave spectators some pause. Who was this imposter, the guy giving up seven earned runs in one third of an inning? Where was the real Jared Miller?

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2017 Jackson Generals: By The Numbers

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Victor Reyes takes joy in his work. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

League Leading Numbers

140      Games played (first time playing 140 games since 2012)

1246    Hits

280      Doubles

118      Home runs; 76 of them (64%) were solo shots

1,932   Total bases

.265     Batting average

.412     Slugging percentage

.748     OPS

424      Extra-base hits

16        Shutouts by the Generals’ pitching staff

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Ryan Atkinson delivers a throw to first base. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

SOUTHERN LEAGUE BESTS

16        Games in a row in which Kevin Medrano recorded a hit

138      Games played by Kevin Cron (a franchise record)

3          Home runs in a game for Kevin Cron (tying a franchise record)

256      Total bases by Kevin Cron (a franchise record)

5          Hits in a game for Kevin Medrano

280      Doubles by the Generals, a franchise record

20        Runs scored against Birmingham on April 9, most in any game this year

33        Home runs by the Generals in the month of May

1,037   Times struck out (2nd fewest in the league)

52        Sacrifice flies (2nd most in the league)

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Joe Mather and J.R. House share a light moment. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

AWARDS

6          Midseason All-Stars (Kevin Cron, Colin Walsh, Rudy Flores, Taylor Clarke, Joey Krehbiel, Gabriel Moya)

3          Player of the Week Awards (Colin Walsh, Jamie Westbrook, Victor Reyes)

2          Pitcher of the Week Awards (Ivan Pineyro, Joel Payamps)

1.5       Postseason All-Stars (Kevin Cron, JXN; Gabriel Moya, CHA-JXN)

1          Player of the Month Award (Kevin Medrano – June)

1          Reliever of the Month Award (Gabriel Moya – June)

1          Southern League MVP (Kevin Cron)

3          Best Tools honorees in Baseball America’s Best Tools survey (Michael Perez, “Best Defensive Catcher”; Kevin Cron, “Best Power Prospect”; Dawel Lugo, “Best Infield Arm”)

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The Generals take the field before the Star-Spangled Banner. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham).

ROSTER

24        position players used in 2017

30        pitchers (excluding C Jose Queliz)

9          shortstops employed by J.R. House

13        infielders who threw to first baseman Kevin Cron

11        players who started and finished the season on the Generals’ active roster

3          Generals players who qualified for the Southern League’s batting average title race (Jamie Westbrook, Kevin Cron, Victor Reyes; 2nd fewest qualifiers of all SL teams)

2          Generals players who qualified for the Southern League’s ERA title race (Alex Young, Brad Keller)

1          game after which the Generals lost ¾ of their starting infield (July 17 vs. Montgomery – 2B Kevin Medrano, 3B Dawel Lugo, SS Domingo Leyba)

3          Players going to the Arizona Fall League (Michael Perez, Ryan Atkinson, Victor Reyes)

1          Former General invited to play in the 2017 AFL (Jack Reinheimer, JXN 2015)

15        new players who joined the Generals in late July & August; 9 of them were with the team at the end of the year

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Vladimir Frias makes a diving grab in front of Kelly Dugan. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

INDIVIDUAL NUMBERS

588     Plate appearances by Kevin Cron, a franchise record

515     At-bats by Kevin Cron, a franchise record

8.0       Most hitless innings pitched by a Generals starter in one start (Frank Duncan)

5          Most RBI in a game (Marty Herum, Kelly Dugan)

12        Most Ks in a game (Ivan Pineyro, Taylor Clarke)

1          Complete game (Joel Payamps)

18.1     Most consecutive scoreless innings pitched by a Generals starter (Ryan Atkinson)

4          Players to hit multiple home runs in one game (Kevin Cron, Stewart Ijames, Dawel Lugo, Kelly Dugan)

2          Grand slams by Jamie Westbrook, only Southern Leaguer with multiple slams

167      Strikeouts by Ryan Atkinson, topping all D-backs prospects

1          Home run by Travis Denker in his last at-bat of the season

TEAM NUMBERS

52        Straight games the Generals lost when trailing entering the eighth inning; streak snapped by a ninth-inning rally at Tennessee, 8/31

11-6    Record when the score was tied after eight innings

5          Walk-off wins

10        Most games over .500

2          Most games under .500

-5         Biggest comeback to win (7/11 at Mississippi)

14        Longest game by innings (twice: 6/6 at Chattanooga, 9/3 at Tennessee)

2:02     Shortest game by time (6/25 vs. Jacksonville)

95        Hottest first pitch temperature (8/15 vs. Biloxi)

56        Coldest first pitch temperature (5/1 vs. Chattanooga)

4          Grand slams

12        Last at-bat wins

12        games scoring 10+ runs, all wins; Generals never lost when scoring 8+

5-5       Record as the alter-ego Hub City Hippos

2-2       Record in specialty uniforms (Star Wars, Shark Week, Spiderman, Pirates)

119      Individual multi-RBI performances; 82 (68%) were 2-RBI efforts

47        Quality starts by Generals starting pitchers

49        Wins by Generals starting pitchers

3          Most consecutive games with a save recorded (2x)

6          Longest winning streak (7/7-7/12)

6,224   Largest attendance (June 3rd – Star Wars Night)

[Photo credit for Cron/Westbrook two-shot: Extra Innings UK]