From unsold to extolled in just one year
Jepsen revives career, flies through Halos' farm in magical '08
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Following the 2007 season, Kevin Jepsen found himself adrift in baseball's Bermuda Triangle -- nowhere to be found on anyone's radar.
At 23, three years removed from right labrum surgery and having never advanced beyond high Class A in six professional seasons, Jepsen seemed grounded, fated to obscurity. The Angels didn't put him on their 40-man roster, never a good sign.
What followed was a 2008 season right out of Hollywood. Roll the credits.
"He was finally healthy," general manager Tony Reagins said, referencing shoulder issues that began with labrum surgery in '04, "and he put it all together. I know he'd been frustrated with the injuries, but Kevin never talked about quitting. That never came up in our conversations.
"We've always liked him. He has good stuff and knows how to pitch. He could make our staff."
In his Cactus League debut on Thursday against the Athletics, Jepsen worked a scoreless fifth inning, getting Chris Denorfia to ground into a double play after Ryan Sweeney's one-out single.
Jepsen is in the mix in what manager Mike Scioscia thinks might be the deepest of his 10 bullpens in Anaheim.
"We've got a lot of good power arms down there," Scioscia said, "and Kevin is one of them."
The transformation began at Double-A Arkansas, where Jepsen opened the 2008 season after a good spring -- and began opening eyes and minds to his possibilities.
Bringing his mid-90s heat with a big, old-school curveball, he was 2-1 with 11 saves and a 1.42 ERA in 25 games with the Travelers, earning a ticket to Triple-A Salt Lake. He continued to dominate (2.35 ERA, .212 batting average against in 15 appearances) in the Pacific Coast League, known as a hitter's paradise.
After Jepsen was selected for the All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium, Team USA manager Davey Johnson said he had great reports on Jepsen, and he was high on its list for the upcoming Beijing Games.
Going back to his days managing the superior Mets teams of the '80s, Johnson always has placed a premium on pitchers who pump the strike zone. Jepsen not only made the team, he was one of its best pitchers, nailing down the save in the bronze-medal clinching contest to finish the Games without yielding a run in six appearances.
The man from Sparks, Nev., land of slot machines and gaming tables, had hit the jackpot.
And the best part hadn't even come yet.
On Sept. 7, the Angels summoned him to The Show.
"Being in China, winning the bronze medal and going on the medal stand . . . that was an amazing experience," Jepsen said from the corner of the Tempe Diablo Stadium clubhouse he shares with good buddy Shane Loux, a candidate for the fifth starter's role.
"It was pretty intense there. Every game had that win-or-go-home mentality. You give up one run, and it might be over. There was a lot riding on that. It brings out the best in you.
"Once we got the last out in the bronze-medal game, there was a big celebration. You could finally exhale, relax. The next day, we flew out, so it all went by pretty fast. Our teams wanted us back."
The Angels had plans for Jepsen.
His Major League debut on Sept. 8 at Angel Stadium came against the Yankees -- and the heart of their order. An 11-1 lead provided breathing room as Jepsen replaced Jon Garland, but his pulse was pounding nonetheless as he went to work.
Derek Jeter bounced back to the mound. Bobby Abreu rolled slowly to shortstop. Alex Rodriguez lifted a shallow fly ball to right.
Debuts don't come any more perfectly.
Jepsen kept throwing strikes and getting hitters out. He experienced one rough patch in Seattle when he yielded a total of three runs in two innings in back-to-back outings, absorbing his first loss.
Finishing with a 4.32 ERA in nine appearances, yielding eight hits and four walks and striking out seven, Jepsen was rewarded with a spot on the Angels' postseason roster, displacing veteran Justin Speier.
While he didn't get the call in any of the four games against Boston in the American League Division Series, suffering in silence with his teammates after it was all over at Fenway Park, Jepsen knew he'd made a major breakthrough.
By any measure, the man from Nevada had won the lotto. The magic numbers: 2008.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.