Offseason Prospect Overview: Michael Rucker

Michael Rucker (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Michael Rucker (photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Season Review

michaelrucker

Rucker worked as both a starter and reliever in college before the Cubs took him as a sleeper, overage prospect in the 11th round of the 2016 draft, and the thought was he would move quickly in relief. After a dominant start working as a long man out of South Bend bullpen in 2017, he showed better than expected feel for secondaries to go along with good fastball command, the Cubs not only promoted him but also transitioned him back into a starter. He didn't slow down as he continued to pitch well out of the rotation with High-A Myrtle Beach. Rucker then spent all of 2018 in the AA Tennessee rotation. After an up-and-down first couple of months, he closed out with the season by allowing 2 or fewer runs in 12 of his final 16 starts. 

Positives

Rucker features a funky arm path and a sneaky good fastball. His velocity top out in the 94-95 range in 2017 when he transitioned from a long relief to the rotation, but as a full-time starter in 2018 he more often topped out around 93 it seemed. The pitch gets on top of hitters quickly and will generate more late swings than the raw velocity would lead you to believe, but whether it was the increased level of competition in AA or the lack of those couple extra ticks, the pitch was not quite as effective this past year as it became a pitch generating more weak contact and fewer whiffs.

Playing off his fastball, Rucker follows up with a good, sweeping slider. Since he does a good of spotting his fastball on the edges, the slider is effective as a chase pitch darting out of the zone. Even when hitters do get a piece, like with his fastball, they tend to not be able to barrel it up.

Negatives

His curve and changeup are usable but neither are out pitches. If anything in his game points to his being better suited for a relief role it is the lack of development from those two pitches in 2018. His 2017 was promising enough to justify experimenting with Rucker as a starter, but I'm not sure he did enough to show he is a future MLB starter. He did get into a nice groove after a slow start, and his overall production was fine, but

Summation

I believe we witnessed some of the limitations Michael Rucker has as a starting pitcher in 2018. His fastball is a key for him, and forcing Rucker to pace himself over a long outing takes a little off the pitch, and it leaves him at the mercy of contact (as a fly ball pitcher) instead of being able to throw it by hitters. Couple that with his curve and changeup not taking enough of a step forward makes continuing the experiment much further a bit of a lost cause, especially since Rucker will turn 25 this season. As a reliever he has a chance to work with an above average fastball/slider combination, then mix in his other two offerings to keep hitters honest, while giving a manager the option of keeping Rucker on the mound for more than one inning if necessary.

2019 Outlook

The rotations in Iowa and Tennessee are crowded. We've discussed that several times as we've gone through the prospects who will be competing at both levels. Given his age and the likelihood the pen is his ultimate destination I wouldn't be surprised if Rucker ends up as one of the pitchers pushed into a swing or full-time reliever role this season.

Comments

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  • Survival of the fittest.... The benefits to so many starting candidates at any # in the rotation on the farm is that they have to compete for their spots at every level of the way. Can only be good for the organization.

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    So many pitchers are clocked at maybe mid-90's in college and then when they come to the pros it drops down to the lower 90's. Is it the more work they get in the pros? Thanks.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Only pitch once a week, and the season is far shorter, so they don't need to pace themselves as much. Also, a lot of guys have a lot of wear and tear on their arm between HS and college so by the time they get to the Minors there can be some damage in the elbow/shoulder.

  • That would make sense. I think they only pitch once a week in college.

    I also wonder if it is because some radar guns register faster than others. And those "hot" numbers are the ones that get reported.

  • In reply to OverTheLake:

    This is true. Some guns get the ball at release and other get the speed as it crosses the plate.

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