A Penny for his thoughts
Life rarely ends up like the movies, but Lake County Captains’ reliever Cody Penny is already part of a cinematic script.
Penny, a 21-year-old native of Sawmills, North Carolina, was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 16th round of the 2012 draft. The right-handed reliever is a 6’3”, 205-pound product of the University of North Carolina, where he was a dominant bullpen arm.
Though it’s his first year playing professional baseball, Penny already has a good feel for life in the minors and has quickly become one of Lake County’s most reliable relievers.
“It’s terrific here in Lake County,” said Penny. “I feel like we’ve got a really good team here. This playoff race, I’ve never been a part of something like this before. It’s new to me, but I like it.”
The pro ball experience may be new to Penny, but competitive baseball is not. In 2011, Penny spent the summer playing with the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod League. The league boasts some of the most competitive collegiate-level players and Penny established a solid scouting report there as he posted a 2.13 ERA and struck out 15 batters through 10 games. Spending a summer on the coast is a dream for most, and Penny is grateful for the inimitable experience.
“That was probably the best summer of my entire life, being out there in the Cape,” he said. “Every young player’s seen the movie ‘Summer Catch’ with Freddie Prinze Jr. on the Chatham Anglers, which was the team I was on. To go out there and face some of the best college baseball players in the country was really something else and it prepared me very well for this.”
The 2012 draft was also a significant experience in Penny’s career as he felt he was ready to take the leap from college ball to the pros.
“The situation I was in, in North Carolina was great,” Penny explained. “I’m grateful for that opportunity, but it wasn’t ideal for me, so when the Indians decided they wanted to take me in the draft, I was really excited and ecstatic. I’m really grateful for the opportunity and grateful they gave me a chance here to go out and show what I can do with the baseball.”
So far, Penny has showed that he can do a lot with the baseball. His repertoire of pitches even includes something unique: the knuckle-curve. The pitch, which is considered a true knuckle-curve, is gripped with two knuckles up and released with no break in the wrist, allowing the ball to tumble downward with a straight over-spin.
“I stumbled onto it when I was playing catch with my dad in the woods when I was about a sophomore in high school trying to throw a knuckleball,” Penny recalled. “I’m still awful to this day at throwing a knuckleball, but it worked out fairly well for me and it’s become a fairly good pitch.”
The knuckle-curve certainly appears to be working for Penny as he’s dominated opposing hitters this season. He recorded 18 strikeouts and posted an ERA of 3.05 through 13 games with the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers before his promotion to low-A Lake County. In nine relief appearances with the Captains, Penny has fanned 16 and allowed just three runs, projecting an ERA of 1.59 and a 4-1 record.
Adjusting to life in a Captains’ uniform has been relatively easy for Penny, except for a few language barriers.
“I need to brush up a little on my Spanish but it’s been good,” he laughed. “It’s a lot different. You’ve just got to put your best out here. These are much more advanced hitters than in college, but I feel like I’ve made the transition pretty well. It really doesn’t matter what level you are, you just have to make your pitches and do your thing out there.”
Penny says his approach on the mound is no different from his college days, because the overall task is the same – get the job done. He noted that he still has to make his pitches at any level in order to excel and advance.
The desired end result may be the same at every level, but Penny has noticed a few key differences between the collegiate and professional levels. He feels the opposing line-ups at the minor league level are much more potent and permit fewer mistakes.
“These hitters at this level are more disciplined and there’s definitely more power throughout the line-up,” Penny explained. “One through nine, these guys definitely can swing it and you can make bad pitches to the eight-hole hitter and he can hit it out of the ballpark, which is not always the case in college. It’s just a different level, that’s for sure.”
Now, the right-hander is working on his mechanics and finding consistency within his delivery.
“It’s really more experience than anything,” he noted. “Just learning how hitters’ approaches are and really just learning how to pitch them. I feel like the more experience I get, the better I’ll be.”
Penny is also experimenting with his slider, which he feels will be a healthy addition to his arsenal of a low-nineties fastball, change-up and the knuckle-curve. He feels the pitch continues to improve due to the expert advice he’s received.
“Harry [Jeff Harris] is great and back in Mahoning they really surpassed anything I’ve had before as far as coaching,” Penny said. “They’re helping me a lot and I’m taking baby steps.”
Penny also feels he’s received a great deal of help from the man above, whom he turns to every time he toes the rubber.
“I have a little talk with the Lord,” Penny said. “I go out and say Lord, I can’t ask you to do it for me, I just ask for the ability and the strength to get it done, and so far it’s working pretty well for me. He’s blessed me beyond all measures.”
That strength has become one of Penny’s best assets, as it has given him confidence on the mound to go after hitters and make his pitches on a consistent basis. Penny feels his mental mindset has become his biggest attribute and knows that resiliency is the key to success at all levels.
“[My biggest strength is] my mentality – going out there and just always attacking hitters and staying tough,” he revealed. “Don’t let anything rattle you. Take it one pitch at a time. The most important pitch is the next one you’re going to throw. Can’t dwell in the past and you’ve got to live in the present.”
Penny is certainly enjoying the present as the Captains prepare for the second round of the Midwest League playoffs. He feels the team has all the talent to make a good postseason run and feels blessed to be in on the experience.
“It’s very exciting, first year in pro ball being in a race like this and having all these good players on the field, but I really feel like we’ve got a good chance to make a run for it,” he said. “It’s just really great and I’m really grateful for the situation I’ve been put in, and I can’t wait to take the next step.”
With the season drawing to a close, the next step for Penny is a trip home to North Carolina. He spends his offseason playing pool and fishing with his dad as he cherishes his time with his family before the start of the next season.
Penny’s ultimate goal is to cross the diamond after a jog from the Progressive Field bullpen, but for now, he’s willing to let the organization write its own plan out.
“My goals are my goals and the organization has their plan for me," Penny said. "I’m for whatever they want to do with me and just take it a day at a time and one year at a time, and if I end up in Cleveland, then so be it. I really hope so, that’s the ultimate goal.”
Freddie Prinze Jr. found his happy ending at the end of “Summer Catch” and so far, it seems Cody Penny is well on his way to scripting the ultimate ending as well.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.