By Todd Johnson
When I woke up Monday morning, I was a little stunned to see the probable MiLB pitching matchups. I looked at Myrtle Beach and saw that Michael Rucker was scheduled to start last night. I didn’t think it was a bad thing, far from it. I was just surprised that he was given this opportunity.
Rucker has been one of the best relief pitchers in the Cubs’ system in 2017. His strikeout rates have been amazing at almost 1.5 per inning. He was originally drafted by the Cubs in 2016 in the 11th round out of BYU. This is his first full season as a Cubs prospect. Because of his size, I initially thought he was going to be reliever.
Ht: 6’1″ Wt: 185
Draft: Round 11 (2016)
Fastball command 92-96
Areas of Concern
Secondaries are developing
What Others Say
The Draft Report said this of Michael’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 he would begin out of the bullpen at South Bend and he did. He was one of the last players to sign in 2016. He only pitched 12.2 innings between Mesa and Eugene last year. He struck out 18 and did not allow run. He did so quietly 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 23 innings between Myrtle Beach and South Bend, he’s struck out 38 batters with an ERA of 1.96. He does not walk many as he had only allowed two free passes all year. His WHIP at South Bend was 0.55. In his last two appearances for the Pelicans he threw 3.1 innings apiece. As a result, I expected him to go at least four innings.
The First Start
To keep it short, Michael’s first start as a pro was just outstanding. He threw 50 pitches over five innings, struck out six, walked one, gave up one hit, and did not allow any runs. Only three batters saw more than five pitches which I find to be an amazing statistic. He pounded the zone all night long as he threw 38 strikes. Aside from the Ks, he got three outs by ground ball and the other five by flyball.
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, I don’t think a decision has to be made right now whether he starts or relieves. I am one who believes in innings. At this level it’s more about building arm strength through the process of pitching. It doesn’t really matter whether it is as a starter or in long relief. Experience is the key.
I think his future this season is still up in the air. He could be in Tennessee in July or still in Myrtle Beach. He’s been pretty dominating as a reliever and his start on Monday probably does not really change how the Cubs look at his development.