Rider baseball experienced a “farewell to arms” of sorts this week when two of its top pitchers were selected in the Major League Baseball First Year Draft on June 7 and 8. Nate Eppley ’11 was chosen in the 29th round by the Oakland A’s on Tuesday, followed by teammate Mike Thomas ’11, who was tapped by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 35th round on Wednesday.
“We are excited to hear that both Mike and Nate were selected. I felt both were worthy of being selected and deserved an opportunity,” said Rider head coach Barry Davis. “They had solid careers here and I believe their experience on the field and with pitching coach Jaime Steward will be beneficial for them moving forward. Both have physical attributes that make them attractive players at the next level and we wish them the best as they take the next step in their baseball careers.”
Eppley, of Dillsburg, Pa., and Thomas, of Forest Hill, Md., are the 44th and 45th Rider players in the last 41 years to play professional baseball and the first Broncs to be drafted since 2009, when Jamie Hayes ’10 was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 48th round. They are also the 19th and 20th of Davis’ players to be drafted, and the third and fourth of his players from Rider. Prior to Hayes, Scott Knazek was a 15th round pick of the Angels in the 2006 draft, signing after his junior season at Rider.
A 6-foot-6, 210-pound senior right-hander, Eppley used his sinking fastball to win six games in 2011, second most on the Rider team, and had 10 wins in his career. As a senior, he struck out 50 batters and issued 30 walks in 86 innings and had a 4.27 earned run average. Opponents batted .245 against him.
Eppley struck out 88 batters in 150 innings over 59 games at Rider, and was the 2009 Rider Pitcher of the Year as a reliever, serving as the ‘bridge’ between starter and closer. He pitched his final game in the Broncs’ 2011 season finale in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference playoffs, when he struck out a career-high eight Canisius batters in seven innings of work.
There is a major league pedigree in the Eppley family, as Nate’s 25-year-old brother, Cody Eppley, plays for the American League champion Texas Rangers. Cody was a 43rd round pick in 2008 out of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Mike Thomas, who graduated magna cum laude in May, leaves the Rider program as its all-time leader in wins and strikeouts. Thomas was 29-12 for the Broncs, with 286 strikeouts. Over his last two seasons the 6-foot-2, 180-pound lefty was 18-6 with 190 strikeouts in 200 innings.
The 2010 New Jersey and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year, Thomas was a First Team All-New Jersey and All-MAAC selection in 2011 after compiling a 9-3 record and a 2.34 earned run average.
Six former Broncs have reached the major leagues: James Hoey (Orioles andTwins), Kevin Barry (Braves), Jack Armstrong (Reds, Marlins), Ed Whited (Braves), Jeff Kunkel (Rangers) and Dan Napoleon (Mets).