As a general rule of thumb, some of the most interest non-top-tier draft picks with leverage are taken later in the draft.
Why? Well, these tend to be the type of guys you might like enough to take in the 3, 4, 5 round range, but are afraid that they may not sign (and thus would cost you pool space, and could throw everything else off). Sometimes, these are guys who are coming off an injury, sometimes these are high school players who are otherwise committed to attending college, and sometimes they are college juniors who might be willing to take a chance on going back to school for a senior year.
In any case, it’s not at all uncommon to see some talented players targeted, specifically, in the 11th round – the first round not subject to the bonus pool.
Last season, the Chicago Cubs selected Michael Rucker out of BYU in the 11th round of the draft.
And so far, he’s dominating. Big time.
First, and foremost, I want to point out that last night, Rucker tossed 8.0 innings of 2-hit shutout ball for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. You can read more about the start and his thoughts on the success right here, but in short, it was the longest start of his career, and also featured 10 strikeouts and NO walks. As far as dominating performances go, it doesn’t get much better than that.
But here’s the thing, even before last night’s performance, Rucker had just been named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Week:
Congratulations to @mikeruck27, who has been named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Week!
— MyrtleBeachPelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) July 17, 2017
In his start during the week of July 10-16, Rucker carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, before a one-out double ended the bid. His final line, then, was really quite pretty: 7.0 IP, 1H, 0ER, 1BB, 7Ks. And again, this came before his dominant 8.0 inning shutout last night.
As a starter this season, Rucker now has a 2.01 ERA (3.24 FIP) with a 24.9 K% and 6.5 BB%. Opposing batters are hitting just .178 off of him, and he’s allowing just 0.60 HR/9. He’s allowed 1 or fewer runs in six out of his eight starts. That is freakin’ fantastic.
But here’s another thing: Rucker only recently moved to the rotation, as you can probably tell by the fact that it’s the middle of July and he’s made just 8 starts overall. Before that, Rucker worked as a reliever for the Low-A South Bend Cubs until May 8 where he moved up and into the Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ pen until the end of May.
As a reliever – and across his time with both teams – Rucker was extraordinarily impressive. His 1.96 ERA was actually worse than his 1.10 FIP. And, if you can believe it, he carried a strikeout rate (42.2%) that was 40 percentage points higher than his walk rate (2.2%). Which, lulz. And although we may not have given him the attention he deserved during that stretch, FanGraphs did.
Back on May 30, before he converted into a dominating starting pitcher, Rucker was already getting praise from Eric Longenhagen. According to his notes, Rucker had, at the time, terrific command and a deceptively hard fastball that crept into the mid-90s. And since he mixed that with “two slurvy breaking balls and a moving changeup,” Longenhagen even predicted his move into the rotation before it happened. Clearly, this is a guy who’s drawing attention.
Having just recently turned 23, Rucker is about a year older than the average age in High-A, but that’s not exactly the blemish on his record that it might be for others. Rucker is a year older because he had to sit out a year while he was transferring in college. So, then, Rucker’s age has an explanation that goes beyond he couldn’t succeed against people his age. Even setting that aside, Rucker is dominating at High-A in his first full professional season. Regardless of age, that’s notable.
And, of course, given how well he’s performed lately, the Cubs’ needs, and, sure, his elevated age, Rucker might be on the so-called fast-track in the Cubs system. If he keeps this up, he can be in Double-A Tennessee by the beginning of next season, which could even put him firmly on the radar for a late-2018 call-up.
We’re getting well ahead of ourselves, to be sure, but so far so great for the Cubs’ 11th round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. Pitching prospects! It’s fun!