On Monday afternoon, pitcher Michael Rucker was placed on MLB.com’s Cubs Top 30 Prospect List at number 29, and the simple reason is that Rucker is having one of the best seasons in 2017 by a Cubs pitching prospect. The Cubs selected Rucker in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. With his inclusion on the list, is he going to be a guy the Cubs can look at as a possible MLB pitching prospect? I am leaning towards yes. Here’s why.
Rucker commands the zone. In 90.1 IP so far, he’s walked just 16 batters. The ability to throw strikes has allowed him to pitch an average of almost 5.5 innings per start. Hitters are only hitting .211 against him. Even his FIP of 2.67 is not far from his ERA of 2.08 at Myrtle Beach.
2. Quality Pitches
Rucker has what some call pitchability, or being able to get out of trouble. But Rucker also has a quality arsenal. His fastball sits 93-96 most nights. I have heard Pelicans announcer Scott Kornberg throw in a 97 occasionally. The fastball even has some nice arm-side run to it.
What I like best, though, is his breaking ball. Cue up the video to see the example of Rucker just annihilating hitters with that pitch.
In that game, he went six innings and struck six while allowing just one run.
3. Consistency as a Starter
Night in and night out, he is putting up pretty similar numbers. Every once in awhile, he might have a clunker night, but the consistency is there over time. In April and May, he was relieving at South Bend. In his first games, he had a 2.84 ERA. In his next 3, 0.00. He was promoted to Myrtle Beach where he relieved there for five games with a 2.61 ERA.
Rucker got his first crack as a starter when he replaced the injured Oscar de la Cruz. He has made 10 starts since then with great results. In June, he made five starts with a 2.10 ERA and struck out 23 in 25.2 IP. In July, Rucker gave up a 1.86 ERA in five starts. In 29 IP, he struck out 30.
Yesterday, he went 6.1 IP. He gave up 11 hits but only allowed one run. Not walking anyone helped on a day he did not have his best stuff. His ERA is now down to 2.02 at Myrtle Beach.
He turned 23 in April. While that is not that old, his mental makeup displays that he is quality young man. When given the opportunity to start back in June, Rucker was more upset with the injury to de la Cruz than he was with the opportunity to start. That tells you what kind of maturity he has.
Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline said that Rucker should “remain a starter for now. He’s not the most physical pitcher, but he’s so efficient that he can work deep into games without running up high pitch counts.”
At 6’1” and 185 lbs., Rucker’s frame can support the innings needed to start. He threw 102 innings in 2016 at BYU and another 12.2 scoreless for the Cubs rookie league team in Arizona and short season Eugene. He is already at 77.2 heading into Wednesday’s start. He should make another seven or eight starts and be close to 130 IP by the time the season ends. That’s a nice progression to build arm strength that is needed at the MLB level.
As usual, Double-A will always be the biggest test for any prospect. He should be there to begin 2018. It will likely be, and should be, as a starter. How he adapts there will tell us everything. But for now, all systems are go.
Lead photo courtesy of Larry Kave—Myrtle Beach Pelicans.