D-backs' Atkinson takes unlikely path to AFL

Right-hander hadn't thrown in over a year before seeking tryout

D-backs' Atkinson takes unlikely path to AFL

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Ryan Atkinson hadn't thrown a baseball in 13 months, but with just five days to prepare, there wasn't any time to dwell. If Atkinson wanted his baseball career to continue, he needed to impress.

After pitching for four seasons at the University of Cincinnati, Atkinson's baseball career suddenly came to a screeching halt. The right-hander wasn't drafted, wasn't signed as a free agent and wasn't invited to a tryout.

"I wasn't mentally committed to giving up baseball," Atkinson said. "I just kind of moved on with life and started working, doing the daily working life, and I did that for a year and a month and one night I came home from work and randomly emailed the Frontier League and I asked them if there was a tryout available."

Atkinson sent that email on a Wednesday and promptly received a response letting him know there was a tryout the following Monday and he was welcome to attend. Atkinson had spent the past year working as a personal trainer and nutritionist so he was physically in shape, even if his arm wasn't.

However, if someone was just watching the tryout, it'd have been hard to tell he hadn't thrown a baseball since college as his fastball sat at 93 mph and he struck out all four batters he faced.

The Evansville Otters were impressed enough to sign Atkinson, and a D-backs scout also took notice, telling the Otters to give him a call once Atkinson had some innings under his belt.

Atkinson was with the Otters for eight days -- he appeared in two games, struck out eight batters and gave up one hit over 5 2/3 scoreless innings -- before the D-backs signed him on July 2, 2016.

"There's a needle in the haystack every now and then that gets overlooked," J.R. House, who managed Atkinson with Double-A Jackson this season, said. "When you go out and perform and get those small chances and turn them into big opportunities, you can be rewarded for them and that's why he's here. That's what he's done."

Atkinson finished the 2016 campaign in rookie ball and then began his ascent through the system in 2017.

Atkinson pitched across three levels this season, posted a 3.30 ERA in 26 games and struck out 167 over 141 2/3 innings. He reached Double-A Jackson and is finishing the season in the Arizona Fall League.

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"He's making a name for himself," House said. "He's shown his durability and that he can last all the way through because this is the most he's thrown in a season by a lot."

Atkinson was also pleased with the year he put together as his preseason goals were simply to get to the Class A Advanced level.

"The year I had, I don't want to sound cocky or anything, but I was happy with where I ended up," Atkinson said. "I guess I didn't set my goals high enough this year because I succeeded with my goals and surpassed them."

Not only did Atkinson surpass his goals in 2017, but his 15-month journey from a gym in Ohio to the Arizona Fall League has already exceeded the expectations of most.

"It's great to see his story and where he's come from, the year that he had and his perseverance," House said. "He's a great kid and I love watching him pitch."

William Boor is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.