Prep Baseball Report

Illinois Player of the Year: Harrisburg's Ryne Roper

By Nathan Rode
National Supervisor

Ryne Roper’s high school career got off to a tough start, but it didn’t set the tone for his path to stardom at Harrisburg HS and selection as Illinois’ 2013 Player of the Year. He started as a freshman on a team that made it to the Class 2A state championship game on a team that had a talented group of seniors, including his older brother Reid, who now plays at Illinois. It took the younger Roper—a shortstop and righthander—a couple games to get his first hit, but once he did, head coach Jay Thompson saw everything click.

“He started the year 0-for-8, 0-for-9, something like that,” Thompson said. “I was going to stick with him if he was 0-for-40, but he hit a ball of the wall for a double for his first varsity hit. I just remember the big smile he had at second base. It seemed like from that point he just relaxed and just played.”

Roper, who finished his senior year as the No. 1 player in the state, proved throughout his first season that he could handle playing against those with more experience and physical development. Thompson trusted him to the point that he handed him the ball to start on the mound in the state championship with an undefeated record on the line.

“It was a great experience to pitch in that game,” Roper said. “It was a confidence builder that Coach Thompson gave me the ball.”

The Bulldogs were 40-0 going into the final game, but would finish with a heartbreaking 40-1 record after falling 5-1 to Teutopolis HS. They went up against a standout junior, LHP Derek Thompson, who was drafted in the 29th round the following season and again out of junior college in 2012, as a 13th-rounder.

But Roper didn’t let the loss define him, instead embracing the learning experience and rebounding as a sophomore in 2011. He made third-team all-state that year after going 8-2 on the mound with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs. That summer, he made his verbal commitment to play at Illinois, where he would be able to be his brother’s teammate once again.

“I had been up there quite a bit to watch Reid play so I got familiar with the campus,” Roper said. “I really like the field and they have a brand new clubhouse. I got to meet the coaches and they were phenomenal."

Roper doesn’t model his game after a particular major league player, rather citing his older brother as a strong influence because of how he plays and approaches the game as well as how he carries himself off the field.

He also put himself on the map with a strong performance at the Midwest Future Games and earning MVP honors at the event.

“That was huge for his confidence,” Thompson said. “It's one thing to be a big duck in a small pond, but I think he saw he could play with the best kids from all over the state.

“Then last summer he was invited to go down to Atlanta with Top Tier. He played great against national caliber competition. Those opportunities were very important for him and let him know that he wasn't just the best guy in Southern Illinois, but he could play with the best players from all over the country.”

Roper’s experience in his first three years of varsity baseball culminated with an outstanding senior campaign in which he went 11-0 with a 0.41 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 68 innings. He also allowed just 30 hits and walked only eight batters. At one point during the season he had pitched seven consecutive shutouts and added a perfect game as well as a no-hitter.

“I really pride myself in getting ahead of batters,” he said. I try not to waste very many pitches.”

At the plate, Roper hit .468 with 10 home runs, 39 RBIs, 46 runs scored and 12 stolen bases. He also struck out just five times while drawing 25 walks as opposing pitchers tried their best to avoid him, but found it tough as he was the first batter up in every game.

“I batted leadoff so it was our coaches' strategy that if they pitch around, that's fine, we'll just start off the game with a runner on first,” Roper said. “Usually to start the game I'd get good pitches to hit. I just had to jump on fastballs. I saw a lot of junk.”

Roper finished his high school career with 30 home runs and 25 wins, both school records. His win total will also put him in the top 20 all-time for the state.

Roper is a long, lean athlete that also excelled in football and basketball, winning a state championship this winter on the hardwood. He is 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and can pitch in the high 80s while showing a good approach and power at the plate.

Thompson has had numerous players go on to play in college, but he isn’t shy about touting where he thinks Roper fits among them when it comes to talent.

“He's the best player that we've ever had here and we've had a lot of great players,” Thompson said. “A lot of guys excelled in college or played in pro ball. Day in and day out, he's the best one, because of the great combination of pitching, hitting and leadership.”

Thompson added that while Roper didn’t get a shot at redemption for the state championship loss, he more than redeemed himself by growing as a player and leader. He is a good teammate and exercised patience with the young players as he became the elder statesman on the team they developed their skills.

Roper said he wouldn’t have been surprised if he was drafted in June based on who came out to see him play this spring, but he wasn’t disappointed when he was passed over, knowing he was committed to attending Illinois. He will likely be a two-way player for the Illini and may get an extra year of playing with his brother after Reid redshirted because of an injury during his freshman year.

Baseball can’t be played forever so when it’s time to hang it up, Roper hopes to be a math teacher while being active in his church and mission trips overseas. Until then, he’ll probably just keep raking at the plate and sending batters back to the dugout.

PBR Illinois Player of the Year Winners

2013: Ryne Roper, SS/RHP, Harrisburg HS

2012: Zack Weigel, OF/LHP, Oak Park-River Forest HS

2011: Sam Travis, 3B, Providence Catholic HS

2010: Shane Conlon, LHP/1B, Naperville Central HS

2009: Nick Tindall, C, O'Fallon HS

2008: Jake Odorizzi, RHP/SS, Highland HS

2007: Jake Smolinski, SS/RHP, Rockford Boylan HS

2006: Connor Powers, 1B. Benet Academy HS

2005: Michael Bowden, RHP/3B, Waubonsie Valley HS