Copeland Pitches His Way to Top of Appalachian League Stats
Aug. 3, 2010
NORMAL, Ill. - It finally hit Ryan Copeland when he saw his name printed above a spacious locker in the St. Louis Cardinals' Jupiter, Fla., spring training facility. Inside, he found a neatly hung, personalized jersey and a new red cap.
"I put on that Cardinals hat, and it was a pretty cool feeling," Copeland said. "I thought to myself, `I made it.'"
Copeland's dream of playing professional baseball became reality June 9, when the former Illinois State pitcher was selected in the 32nd round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He was assigned to the Cardinals' rookie-advanced league affiliate, the Johnson City, Tenn., Cardinals. But before opening day, Copeland flew to the spring training facility in Jupiter for a two-day mini workout with all of the newly drafted Cardinals.
"After that, we bussed up to Johnson City, Tenn., which is about a 15-hour bus ride, so that was kind of our welcome to Minor League Baseball," Copeland said with a laugh.
Johnson City opened the Appalachian League season June 22 and Copeland was put to work right away. He came out of the bullpen to pitch three scoreless innings of relief in the Cardinals' losing effort.
"I actually wasn't too nervous," Copeland said. "Once I had a smooth first inning, I realized it wasn't much different than pitching in college or even high school. If I just threw strikes and competed out there, I knew I would be fine."
After pitching two games out of the bullpen, Copeland made his first professional start July 2. Copeland won the game for Johnson City, and in doing so, he regained some of his confidence as a starter.
"I started for three and a half years at Illinois State, but then I made the change to the bullpen during my senior season," Copeland said. "But I truly believe that I would not be playing professionally if (ISU head coach) Mark Kingston and (ISU assistant coach) Billy Mohl hadn't moved me to the pen. The minute that I went into relief, my velocity peaked and scouts started to notice me. So it was kind of weird to go back to starting, but I got back into the routine pretty easily."
Copeland's transition from college to pro ball has been about as seamless as possible. On Monday, August 2, Copeland improved his rookie record to 5-0. He has the lowest ERA in the Appalachian League at 1.49 and the third-lowest ERA among all rookie leaguers. The Des Plaines, Ill., native is tied for the most wins in the Appalachian League, and he has allowed the fewest hits (23), runs (7) and earned runs (6).
"I just focus on pounding the zone with strikes and keeping hitters back on their heels," Copeland said. "The more success I have out there, the hungrier I get. I'm always looking to be the best. You can't go to the field one day and not work, because if you do that, someone here will pass you up. I feel very fortunate and thankful that I get to play pro ball."