Ryan Atkinson is defying the odds and opening eyes.
Each year roughly 1,200 amateur players are drafted by Major League teams. Hundreds more are signed from other countries and are not subjected to the draft.
A tiny percentage of them make the big leagues.
He spent a year as a professional using his college degree in nutrition to secure a job making a good living. He wasn't ready to give up his dream to pitch in the Major Leagues. He attended a tryout camp for the Evansville Otters in the independent Frontier League. A scout from the Arizona Diamondbacks was there.
Atkinson pitched in two games for Evansville. The Diamondbacks signed him to a contract.
Atkinson made nine appearances, including seven starts for the Diamondbacks Arizona Rookie League team and the Missoula Ospreys of the Frontier advanced rookie league team. His record was 1-4 but he had a fine 3.24 ERA and struck out 39 batters in 33 innings.
This season Atkinson has opened some eyes in the organization, headed by Mike Bell, a former Reds' player. Bell is the son of Buddy Bell and the grandson of Gus Bell, who played for the Reds in the 1950's. Former Red Burke Badenhop has taken notice as a roving instructor in Arizona's player development unit.
Atkinson attended his first spring training and pitched sparingly in minor league games. Initially, it was thought that he would stay in Arizona for extended spring training but at the last minute he was assigned to Kane County in the Midwest League where the competition was more advanced.
Atkinson got to face Ryan Braun and Jonathan Villar of the Milwaukee Brewers while they were on rehab assignments.
"He looked pretty good," Braun said. "He has the talent to make it. There isn't as big a drop off in talent between A level and the Major Leagues as people think. If he can execute consistently he has a good chance."
The Diamondbacks have seen consistency out of Atkinson at three levels this season. He has a 2-5 record at Kane County and was a victim of skinny run support. He made 10 starts in his two stints with the Cougars where he has a 3.34 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 56.2 innings. He was promoted to Visalia in the advanced A California League. Atkinson made nine starts and earned a 3-3 record with a 3.33 ERA, striking out 66 in 48.2 innings. After the June draft he was sent back to Kane County. At the time he was sent back, Atkinson was among the league leaders in strikeouts despite have five fewer starts with enough innings he would have been in the top 10 of the Calfornia League in ERA and WHIP.
Last week, Atkinson was promoted to Double AA Jackson in the Southern League.
He was a success in his first outing picking up the win against Moblie with 5.1 innings of one-run baseball. He struck out six and walked one.
Athinson leads all minor league pitchers in the Diamondbacks system with 140 strikeouts in 110 2/3 innings. That's 11 per nine innings. He has walked just three per nine innings.
In 20 starts, Atkinson is 6-8 with a 3.25 ERA. He will have 5-7 starts left in the minor league season.