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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Brad Keller Rides Strong 2017 Second Half to Rule 5 Draft, Trade

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Brad Keller was one of two Generals selected in the December 2017 MLB Rule 5 Draft. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

It’s not real until it is. That’s how 2017 Jackson Generals pitcher Brad Keller felt about his Rule 5 Draft selection on Thursday.

“Some people were telling me it might happen, and I didn’t really believe it,” the 22-year-old Keller said. “I thought that would be a pretty cool situation if it did happen, but I didn’t put too much thought into it. My agent kind of downplayed it, saying ‘It’s like, 50-50, we’ll see, it should be interesting.’ And I was like, alright, whatever.”

Sitting at the breakfast table in his Atlanta area home, the six-foot-five right-hander saw a familiar name drafted early: 2017 Generals outfielder Victor Reyes went first overall to the Detroit Tigers. Still, no strong premonitions for Keller.

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Series Preview: Montgomery visits the league-leading Generals

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Generals reliever Yuhei Nakaushiro threw 4.1 innings in relief over the Generals’ trip to Mobile, earning a win and a save in the process. Jackson leads the Southern League North Division at 8-2. (Photo credits for this article: Cody Cunningham)

Did somebody say “Biscuits”, or was that my stomach growling? Either way, it’s breakfast time, and we’re here to bring you a first look at the Generals’ second home series of the year!

After ten games in 2017, the Jackson Generals (8-2) hold the high ground in the Southern League’s North Division as they await the arrival of the Montgomery Biscuits (5-5). New manager J.R. House has found multiple ways to coax wins out of his team so far, and that’s in part because the roster has already changed.

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