Ryan Pepiot wasn’t caught up in the Power Five attention when he was looking to continue his baseball career after high school. The Westfield, Indiana native committed to Butler over Indiana and Purdue.
Butler’s smaller class sizes, which allow for more one-on-one interactions with instructors and professors, intrigued Pepiot. Its proximity to his family and ability to compete for a spot in the starting rotation as a freshman also factored into his decision.
“I didn’t want to get 10 to 15 innings as a freshman,” he said. “I knew I needed to pitch a lot to get better at pitching, especially since this was the first time I’d be pitching only.”
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound right-handed hitter has provided a steady impact throughout his three seasons as a starter at Butler. He’s gradually refined his skills and improved his numbers to position himself as a prospect for June’s MLB draft.
Pepiot likely will be an early-round pick in the draft. He should surpass major-league reliever Pat Neshek as the highest-ever draft pick in Butler’s history. The Minnesota Twins selected Neshek in the sixth round of the 2002 draft.
Playing at a mid-major school has motivated Pepiot to try to prove to professional scouts that he can pitch in the pro ranks, he said.
“I always dreamed and hoped of this stuff happening,” Pepiot said. “I never thought it actually would come down to being like this. I think it’s pretty frickin’ cool to actually be in this situation and see all my hard work starting to pay off a little bit.”
In 13 starts as a freshman, Pepiot posted a 4.39 ERA with 79 strikeouts and 41 walks allowed in 65 2/3 innings in 2017.
He returned his sophomore year and showed improvement. He recorded a 2.62 ERA with 101 strikeouts and 32 walks allowed in 75.2 innings (15 appearances).
Although he has a 3.69 ERA with 111 strikeouts and 36 walks allowed in 68 1/3 innings this spring, Pepiot has refined his skills from last season.
His last two outings skew his numbers, as he allowed six earned runs in each start. He’s struggled to put away hitters, allowing batters to receive hittable pitches late in counts, which Pepiot believes is the reason for the ineffectiveness the last two starts.
Pepiot throws a fastball, slider and changeup from a three-quarters arm slot, which creates some deception for opposing hitters. His fastball sits in the low-90s and touches 96 mph.
“Whether I have my best stuff or not, on any given day I’m going to go out there and out compete the guy in the box,” Pepiot said.
Pepiot’s changeup is his best offering. It’s an above-average pitch and one of the best in this year’s draft class.
He’s made tremendous progress with his changeup, after throwing it about five times in his high school career, he said. After his freshman season at Butler, he played with the Keene Swamp Bats in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He realized he needed to develop a third offering and focused on his changeup.
Once he returned to Butler in the fall, Pepiot starting throwing a changeup about 20 times each day in long toss from about 70 feet away from his throwing partner. He didn’t gain confidence with the pitch until about halfway through his sophomore season, he said.
After refining the pitch in the Cape Cod League last summer, Pepiot’s changeup has developed into a weapon and outpitch for him this spring.
“My changeup is a strength,” he said. “I’ve developed it a lot since before my sophomore year and now it’s my go-to pitch.”
Pepiot has six double-digit strikeout games this season. He also has issued at least five walks in four games while not walking a batter in three starts.
Pepiot hopes to limit his walks and develop more consistency with his command in the final two weeks of the regular season.
“When I get ahead, I want to stay ahead,” Pepiot said. “Sometimes I’ve tried to do too much, but then I went through a stretch where I hardly walked anyone. I’m trying to get back to that.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.