Originally drafted by the Cubs in 2016 in the 11th round out of BYU, Michael Rucker has been one of the best relief pitchers in the system in 2017. Because of his size, I initially thought he was going to be reliever. That’s exactly what he’s become here in his first full pro season, over which he has struck out an outstanding 1.57 batters per inning across 28 innings spread between two levels of A-ball.
Ht: 6’1″ Wt: 185
Draft: Round 11 (2016)
Fastball command 92-96
Areas of Concern
Secondaries are developing at a fast rate
What Others Say
The Draft Report said the following of Rucker’s talents after last year’s draft:
Michael Rucker checks two of our three boxes pretty easily: he’s 88-94 (96 peak) with his fastball while commanding three offspeed pitches (low-80s SL, low- to mid-80s CU, mid-70s CB) with a veteran’s mindset on the mound. He’s not particularly big (6-1, 185) nor does he have that plus offspeed pitch (slider comes closest), but it’s still a potential big league starter
Heading into 2017
I thought for sure Rucker would begin out of the bullpen at South Bend and he did. He was one of the last players to sign in 2016 and only pitched 12.2 innings between Mesa and Eugene last year. He struck out 18 and did not allow run, but he did so quietly after coming in later in the summer. It is not as though those stats escaped me, but it’s not uncommon for a college starter to come in and dominate in relief at Eugene.
Apart from one outing at Myrtle Beach, Rucker has been amazing. In 28 innings between Myrtle Beach and South Bend, he’s struck out 44 batters and has walked only three with an ERA of 1.76. His WHIP at South Bend was 0.55 and it’s still a very acceptable 0.91 with Myrtle Beach.
After only three appearances for the Pelicans, Rucker began to stretch out. He threw 3.1 innings each in consecutive appearances and I figured he’d go at least four innings the next time out.
The first start
To keep it short, Rucker’s first start as a pro was just outstanding. He threw 50 pitches over five shutout innings, striking out six, walking one, and giving up just one hit. Only three batters saw more than five pitches, which I find to be an amazing statistic. Rucker pounded the zone all night long, throwing 38 strikes. Aside from the K’s, he got three outs by ground ball and the other five by fly.
I don’t think you can ask for much more from a young pitcher. The Pelicans went on to win the game as Kyle Miller came in and pitched four shutout innings in relief. As a result, the Pelicans took over first place from the Astros in the Carolina League’s Southern Division.
There is an old saying that goes, “It is hard to put Junior back on the farm once he’s seen the city.” To be honest, though, I don’t think a decision has to be made right now as to whether Rucker starts or relieves. I am one who believes in building innings, that it’s more about building arm strength through the process of pitching at this level. It doesn’t really matter whether that comes as a starter or in long relief. Experience is the key.
Rucker’s future this season is still up in the air. If he continues on his current trajectory, he could be in Tennessee in July. Or he could still be in Myrtle Beach. He’s been pretty dominant as a reliever and his start on Monday, great as it was, probably does not really change how the Cubs look at his development.