Michael Rucker

First Half Cubs MiLB All-Star Team Has Some New Faces

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This was the fastest minor league first half I can remember. It just flew by. For Cubs prospects, there were a lot of great performances in that time span. Many players were able to sustain a level of excellence, while others ebbed and flowed.

If you’ve been following this website, I don’t think there any surprises on the list. However I think there are some names who you would not have foreseen at the beginning of the year. Names like Duncan Robinson, Andrew Ely, Michael Rucker, Jason Vosler, and Dillon Maples, to name a few.

Here is this year’s Cubs first half minor league all-star team in video form.

Here are some names for you to ponder when it comes to the second half All-Star team:
Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, Thomas Hatch, Gustavo Polanco, Jose Albertos, and many more. It would not surprise me to see half the names change in this list.

I will be back tomorrow with a post about some possible breakout players to watch for in the second half. They are mostly players from Mesa and Eugene with a few draft picks thrown in for good measure.

Prospect Profile: Michael Rucker Is Blazing Through the Cubs Lower Part of the System

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By Todd Johnson

Michael Rucker – Photo by Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

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.

Image may contain: 1 personBasic Info
Bats/Throws: L/R
Ht: 6’1″ Wt: 185
Draft: Round 11 (2016)
School: BYU

Strengths
Fastball command 92-96
Strikeout potential
Competitiveness
Throws strikes
Clean mechanics

Areas of Concern
Secondaries are developing
Size

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.

The Breakout
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.

Going Forward
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.

 

The May All-Star Team Breaks Precedence with 8 Starting Pitchers

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By Todd Johnson

April was a pretty rough month as temperatures kept some players down. Now that it has warmed up, so have the performances. In fact, they were many more players competing for a spot this month, whereas in April, each position was pretty clear-cut.

Starting pitchers and outfielders made the most improvement over the last five weeks. In fact, the starting pitching was so impressive  I went with eight starters rather than the normal six. They all posted ERAs under 3, which made the decision pretty easy.

I did not put Eloy on the team as he only played in 13 games, but what a 13 game stat line. He hit .324 with 3 HRs, 10 RBI, and a .468 OBP. I cannot wait to see how he does in June.

Let’s get right to this month’s list…

Team Breakdown
Iowa – 4 (all hitters)
Tennessee – 11 (4 position/7 pitchers)
Myrtle Beach – 4 (all pitchers)
South Bend – 4 (1 hitter/3 pitchers)

For next month…
Several players will be returning very soon from the DL. They include Trey Martin, Erling Moreno, Jordan Minch, Bailey Clark, and Dylan Cease. As well, some players are starting to put it together who could make a run for next month’s squad. They include Wladimir Galindo, Luis Ayala, Robert Garcia, Dave Berg, and pitcher Thomas Hatch.

Mesa, Eugene, and two DLS squads fire up their seasons this month. Most of them will be in contention for the honorable mention sections as Eugene and Mesa will only get about 12 games in, not enough to qualify.

The two DSL teams start Saturday, June 3rd, and could have some names on the list. Most position players signed in the draft begin play right away. Pitchers selected take some time to get back into shape.

The Weekly: Debuts Galore and Some Underrated Prospects

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By Todd Johnson

What I thought would be the most exciting part of the week was the Friday night debut of Eddie Butler for Chicago. He went six innings, gave up two hits and three walks, but struck out five and did not allow a run as the Cubs beat the Cardinals 3 to 2. Butler displayed a nice collection of pitches that included a fastball with some nice arm side run. He should get one more start before the Cubs decide on whether to keep him as the fifth starter.

Then, on Saturday afternoon, Ian Happ made his MLB debut against the Cardinals. His first at-bat was not very auspicious as he struck out on four pitches. He later homered in the game – Not a bad first game. On the other hand, he will likely be back in Iowa in ten days.

We were not done yet.

Eloy Jimenez finally was scheduled to play in a game that mattered on Saturday night for Myrtle Beach. Unfortunately, the game was called because of rain. So, Myrtle Beach will play two today. I doubt if Eloy does.

Finally, Wladimir Galindo returned from the DL for South Bend. In his first at-bat, he drove in two. For the night, he went 1-4 with 3 Ks. His average is now .321.

Nice Seasons
While some prospects have made a lot of noise with their bats and arms this season, there are several other prospects who are quietly going about their business and putting together some very nice seasons.

  • Duncan Robinson has gone back and forth between starting and piggybacking. He now looks like a starter after a 7 IP, 5 K performance where he lowered his ERA down to 1.52.
  • Michael Rucker has been very hard to score on out of the bullpen for South Bend. Currently, his ERA is 1.42.
  • Bryant Flete has been a go to guy for the pelicans. He is one of the team leaders in RBIs while playing a very good shortstop.
  • Both David Bote and Charcer Burks go about their business quietly and have been essential cogs at the top of the lineup for Tennessee.
  • Matt Rose missed two weeks but it has not stopped him from being one of the team leaders in homers and RBIs for Myrtle Beach. Since returning from his injury, his average is slowly creeping up towards .250. I think he could go on a tear once the weather warms up a little bit more. Last August, he hit seven dinners in August at South Bend.

Here at Cubs Central
The Facebook page is beginning to take off with the Players of the Day segment. Every day we select the best hitter, starting pitcher, and reliever in the minors and give them some props and put their baseball card on the Internet. There is also a page on this site that keeps a record of who we selected. AND another new page on this site keeps track of each monthly All-Star team. If you are on your phone, you can click the drop-down menu in the header. If you have a computer, there should be a tab at the top of the page to select.

Around the System This Week
Iowa: 1-6; 14-20 – 8.5 GB
The Cubs can score 11 runs in a game, but then they give up 12. With Butler now in Chicago, I think there will be a mostly new rotation the second half. Alec Mills could be the only remaining starter come July.

Tennessee: 5-3; 22-14- First Place
The Smokies moved into first place in the Southern League’s Northern Division. Using a combination of excellent starting pitching, a shutdown bullpen, and some ascending hitters, the Smokies are a team to watch this year. Hopefully, they can clinch a playoff spot for the first half next month.

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports and baseballMyrtle Beach: 2-3; 19-16 – 2.5 GB
They have not really gone on a winning streak this year. Starting pitching doesn’t seem to be in a groove just yet. Right now, they seem to be susceptible to the big inning. Adbert Alzolay looks like he could be the real deal this year.

South Bend: 5-2; 23-12 – 1.5 GB
This team does not have a lot of power at the plate. Nevertheless, they can put up some crooked numbers in a hurry. From 1 to 9, they might have the best lineup in the system. Pitcher of Bryan Hudson also had an encouraging start this week. If Manny Rondon can get straightened out like he was last night (6IP, 0 Runs), this team could be unstoppable with some consistent starting pitching.

Extended Spring Training
There is less than a month left and some of the pitchers are starting to get stretched out a bit. Jose Albertos had a very good scoreless three inning start this week and I expect to see him hit four innings this next week.

Players of the Week

Card of the Week

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My Posts on Other Sites This Week
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Breakout Pitching Prospects Getting Harder and Harder to Find

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By Todd Johnson

mission-2017

It’s getting harder and harder to sneak up as a prospect and have a breakout season. There are eyes, ears, evaluators, and video everywhere. For 2017, the Cubs have several 18-year-old prospects who could redefine every prospect list, even mine, in the second half of the year.

As for the first half of 2017, the names on this list should be very familiar. For them to break out, most of them will be playing their first full season at South Bend or Myrtle Beach. Add in some 2016 draftees who did not see any action last year and this year should be an exciting one for breakout pitching prospects.

Image may contain: 1 personAs for Michael Rucker, the former BYU righty saw a little bit of action last year in Mesa and Eugene after signing late. He throws in the low 90s with good movement. He could bounce up a couple more miles an hour this year. I don’t know if the long-term plan for him is to be a starter or reliever. I think he’s experienced enough to start in the low minors. 

When it comes to Stephen Ridingsbut, he’s got a rifle attached to his right shoulder. He can throw 95 with ease but the question is where the ball is going. I tend to lean towards him beginning the year in Eugene and going from there. Or he can stay in Extended Spring training. He’s a bit of an unknown in most respects because of the school he pitched at in college (Haverford). But I think he’s going to stay in extended spring. Right now, I tend to lean towards him relieving rather than starting.
After missing the better part of two years, Erling Moreno came back in a big way in 2016 at short-season Eugene. As long as he is healthy, I expect him to put up some dazzling stats at South Bend in 2017. He has what I think might be the best curve (12-6) in the Cubs’ minor league system. Opponents batted under .200 against while he put up a WHIP 0.70 last year. He was just plain filthy. He just turned 20 in January.

Colton Freeman is a lefty reliever out of Alabama who missed all of 2016  after season after being drafted by the Cubs. He throws in the low 90s and is one of a few new lefties in the system. It will be interesting to see what he can do as a reliever.

Thomas Hatch and Dylan Cease both come into 2017 highly hyped. Hatch is the Cubs 3rd round pick who has a mastery of four pitches he can throw for strikes. After throwing 131 IP in college, Hatch was shut down for the year. 2017 should see him make his debut at either South Bend or Myrtle  Beach. Cease, on the other hand, finally will have no restrictions at South Bend. I don’t think you can really call Cease a breakout pitcher, but he will not have limited pitch counts and hopefully fans can see him pitch beyond inning number 5. As a result, he will shoot up many of Top 100 Prospect list.

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport, baseball and outdoor
Jose Albertos – Photo by Bill Mitchell
Jose Albertos is more like a mystery man. The just turned 18-year-old made his Cubs debut in Extended Spring Training and Mesa last year at the age of 17. He pitched only 4 innings in rookie ball. But those four innings created a mythical figure in the minors. I will let Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo explain the mythos of Albertos.

Callis:I guess the guy I’m most intrigued by is [right-handed pitcher] Jose Albertos with the Cubs. This is a guy they purchased from a Mexican League club in 2015. He made his U.S. debut as a 17-year-old in the Arizona League: four innings, one hit, one walk, seven strikeouts, hit 97 miles per hour, worked both corners, showed a well-above average changeup, a pretty good slider, and that was the only game he pitched all year. He was shut down as a precautionary measure. He had some forearm soreness. It’s weird because, and Jonathan you can help me with this … there have been other outlets that have written that he wasn’t really hurt and the Cubs had some ulterior motive for shutting him down, which I actually asked the Cubs about this and they say: ‘No.’ I mean, he had some forearm stiffness, and they shut him down as a precaution.’ But I couldn’t even think what would be the upside? He’s not eligible for the 40-man roster. Like, I don’t even know why you would shut the guy down if you didn’t need to.  I mean, can you think of any reason why you would make up an injury for an 18-year-old kid so he wouldn’t pitch anymore the rest of the summer?

Jonathan Mayo: I’ve got nothing.

I just love Mayo’s answer! They continued talking about possible reasons Albertos was shut down. Still, the interest created in Albertos has been unreal as most Cubs prospect lists have him in their top ten just based on that small sample size. But if he throws 95-97 with control and can command two other pitches, then sign him up as the Cubs breakout pitcher of the year.

The only real issue will be where Albertos will play. Will it be in Eugene? Will it be in South Bend? I don’t know. I tend to lean towards him doing EST and then Eugene if the injury really was that serious to shut him down for a whole Rookie League season. Otherwise, if his stuff is that good, the Cubs should put him in EST and let him go to South Bend in late May when it warms up.

The Weekly – Eloy Puts Up Zeroes, Farris Shines, IFA List Released, and a Draft Report from BA

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By Todd Johnson

The Eloy AFL Watch
farris 71 2016 mbAfter Eloy got off to a great start in his first three games in the Arizona Fall League, there was not much to watch this week at all. In fact, Eloy went zero for 11 on the week. Fellow prospects Victor Caratini and Ian Happ did not fare much better at the plate. Pitcher Duane Underwood’s second outing was better than his first, yet there is still much room for improvement. He went 3.1 IP while allowing 2 runs.

Seems that the only Cubs prospects having success in the AFL are Stephen Perakslis, who’s only pitched in one game, and James Farris, who has yet to allow a run in three appearances. The other Cubs prospect in the AFL, reliever Ryan McNeil, has struggled with an ERA over 10. There are still six more weeks in the AFL with a little over 30 games left. We will keep you posted on their progress.


In other news…

Baseball America released articles on every team’s draft class from 2016. They didn’t necessarily give each team a grade, but they did break down each draft class into categories such as the best pure hitter, fastest runner, closest to the majors, and several other categories. Here is the link to the whole article (subscription required),

To sum it up for the Cubs, Baseball America is high on the bat of Michael Cruz, the young catcher from Bethune-Cookman. Not only do they like his potential to hit for average, they also like his potential to hit for power. When it came to pitching, Baseball America liked several of the arms the Cubs selected in this year’s draft. They loved Thomas Hatch, the potential of Michael Rucker, the curveball of Duncan Robinson, and the fastball of Bailey Clark.

In addition, writer John Manuel echoed my sentiments about the potential of 19-year-old Delvin Zinn. Although Zinn was a little late to the game last year, I think his potential will start to blossom in 2017 at Eugene. I still don’t know if the Cubs know where he will play. He played SS before he was drafted and saw some action in rookie league and fall instructs at 2B.

zinn-85-2016-fall


1219651The Cubs also released their international free-agent signing list from this summer. The Cub signed a mixture of 17 players from six different countries. I don’t know anything about most of them. It’s a mixture of 16-20-year-old position players and pitchers. The one name we do know is Manuel Rodriguez from Mexico. He’s pitched in the Mexican League for Leonis de Yucatan the last three years. Although in 2016, he missed most of the season due to an injury and only pitched and 16 games. However it 2015, the then 19-year-old reliever posted an ERA of 1.84 in 50 games where he struck out 46 in 49 IP.

The list comes courtesy of The Cub Reporter.

Oswaldo Pina, SS (VENEZUELA) – R/R – 5’10 170 – Age 18
Ricardo Verenzuela, OF (VENEZUELA) – L/R – 6’0 175 – Age 16
Carmelo Alfonzo, OF (VENEZUELA) – L/R – 6’0 177 – Age19
Keiber Arredondo, RHP (VENEZUELA) – R/R – 6’0 178 – Age 19
Jonathan Bruzual, LHP (VENEZUELA) – L/L – 6’1 172 – Age 16
Kleiber Carreno, RHP (VENEZUELA) – R/R – 6’2 165 – Age 18
Yovanny Cruz, RHP (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC) – R/R – 6’1 190 – Age 17
Denmy Sanchez, RHP (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC) – R/R – 6’0 190 – Age 18
Jose Gomez, RHP (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC) – R/R – 6’2 165 – Age 19
Vicente, King, SS (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC) – R/R – 5’7 160 – Age 16
Jeinser Brete, 3B (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC) – R/R – 6’0 190 – Age 16
Danis Correa, RHP (COLOMBIA) – R/R – 5’11 155 – Age 17
Manuel Rodriguez, RHP (MEXICO) – R/R – 5’11 205 – Age 20 – spent three seasons with Yucatan (Mexican League) – $100K bonus
Ferrol Heredia, LHP (MEXICO) – L/L – 5’11 200 – Age 17 – $50,000 bonus
Carlos Pacheco, OF (MEXICO) – R/R – 5’11 195 – Age 17
Chi-Feng Lee, RHP (TAIWAN) – R/R – 5’11 155 – Age18 – $30,000 bonus
Didier Vargas, LHP (PANAMA) – L/L – 6’0 175 – Age 17


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World Series Recaps (Fingers are Crossed)

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The 24: Where Could the Cubs Draft Picks Go in the Next Year?

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The draft signing deadline passed quietly last week and the Cubs total number of draft picks they signed stands at 24. With only $2.3 million in the draft pool, I think they did an outstanding job in getting these players to sign their contracts. Originally, I thought that if they did a great job, the Cubs could sign 20 of them, but 24 is quite an achievement .

Of the 24, 16 are pitchers and 8 are position players. I think it is still to be determined which pitchers are starters and which are relievers. Those determinations may not come until the summer of 2017.Just because they were a reliever in college does not mean they will be a reliever has a pro and vice versa. I think that is the great thing about this collection of pitchers is that they are flexible. It will be interesting to see where Thomas Hatch and Tyson Miller are assigned. As for the position players, six of them have already begun play in Arizona and Eugene.

To me, though, the steal of this draft is 23rd round pick, Delvin Zinn. The young athletic shortstop is pretty close to a five-tool player. He doesn’t quite have the power that you want, but he will be just as exciting with his combination of speed and ability to get on base.

I put down my expectations for each draft pick for their performance and destination for the next calendar year

ARIZONA IN 2017
RHP Nathan Sweeney – He might see a few innings in Arizona this year, but more than likely, he will begin there again next spring and unless he has an amazing spring training, he winds up in Eugene. As a high school pitcher, the Cubs will be cautious.

ARIZONA TO EUGENE
C Michael Cruz – He was the first one sign and the first one playing, but he needs to get some things squared away catching first.
RHP Stephen Ridings – I think getting some relief work in this year at Arizona would be good, possibly 20 innings, He could begin next year in Eugene.
RHP Duncan Robinson – I would like to see him make two or three starts of up to three innings in Arizona. I think next year he goes to Eugene.
RHP Jed Carter – His future is a little cloudy when it comes to whether he is going to start or relieve. I think Spring Training in 2017 will determine where he will go, but his play is likely to be as a reliever
RHP Holden Cammack – This is the prospect when it comes to pitching that I’m most interested in seeing. One, this was his first year pitching. Two, he was really good at it and has great arm strength. A former catcher, he could be a great asset on the mound as a reliever
RHP Matt Swarmer – I think he spends this year in Arizona, the next year, Eugene.
LHP Colton Freeman – While he was injured most of this year, I don’t quite know what to expect of him next year when he’s healthy. I do know that he will be in the bullpen, but whether that will be in Eugene or South Bend remains to be seen.
SS Delvin Zinn – It was up to him he would be in Eugene this year. I think the Cubs take their time and try to mold him or at least rub off some of the rough edges. I see Arizona this year and likely Eugene next year. However, he could move quickly next year to South Bend. He is an amazing athlete.
CF Zach Davis – He played his first game on last Saturday and went two for three in Arizona. I think next year he could be at Eugene to begin the year and move quickly to South Bend with his experience.
CF Tolly Filotei – I think Arizona has a spot for him this year and likely Eugene for next year.

EUGENE TO SOUTH BEND
RHP Tyson Miller – 20 innings at Eugene in relief or piggyback starts would be great for him. Next year, I think he begins year as a starter in Indiana at South Bend
RHP Bailey Clark –Even though he started and then was pushed to the bullpen, I think I would like to see what coaching can do to make him a starter. If they could get 3 to 4 starts with 12 innings at Eugene or Arizona, it could bode well for 2017 and for him to start at South Bend next year.
RHP Michael Rucker – As one of the last couple picks to sign, I don’t think we’re going to see much of him that maybe 10 innings in relief this year. I think next year he starts as a starter at Eugene.
SS Zack Short – He started in Arizona and did well. He is improving at Eugene and is now creeping up towards .300. It would not surprise me to see him start the year in South Bend and spend the year there.
LHP Marc Huberman – Well, he has one inning in at Arizona this year, I think he makes it to Eugene this year and South Bend next year
C Sam Tidaback – He’s already in Eugene this year and I think he begins next year at South Bend.
RHP Tyler Peyton – Right now he’s on the 60-day DL and likely to begin next year Eugene. With his experience, he should not be there long.
2B Trent Giambrone – More of a defensive stalwart, he has shown some capability with the bat at Eugene

SOUTH BEND TO MYRTLE BEACH
RHP Dakota Mekkes – Although he may profile later as a starter, I think this year he just relieves and gets to Eugene as part of the playoff team. But next year I think they try to make him a starter
LHP Wyatt Short – He’s done very well in 5 appearances at Eugene. It would not surprise me to see him in South Bend for the playoffs. They can never have enough lefties in the pen
CF Connor Myers – He’s been a surprise at the plate and already has moved to Eugene from Arizona. I think he is an outfielder at South Bend to begin the year. I really like the energy he brings to the field. He’s a huge grinder and hustle guy.
RHP Chad Hockin – I think he stays reliever and makes it to South Bend in time for the playoffs. With his experience and repertoire, he should make it to Myrtle Beach by this time a year from now.

hatch 85 draftMYRTLE BEACH TO TENNESSEE
RHP Thomas Hatch – Considering how much he has pitched, I think another 20 innings of 2 inning starts at Eugene and South Bend would be perfect for him this year with possibly beginning next year at hi class A as a starter. He should stay there all year unless he absolutely just dominates the Carolina League.

I am sure there will be some surprises and some setbacks. This class is unique because of the sheer numbers of pitchers involved. One could also add in the fact that their pitching roles are not yet defined. With only 6 weeks left in the minor league season, we will get glimpses and flashes of what these players can do. Spring training next year will be the better barometer.