In my last prospect interview, I spoke with fast-rising pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay. This time around, I was lucky enough to speak with Michael Rucker, another Cubs pitching prospect who has taken the organization by storm this season.
Following a spectacular career at Brigham Young University, right-handed pitcher Michael Rucker decided to forego his senior season after being selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. Despite needing an over-slot deal to convince Rucker to sign, the pick remained mostly under the radar. That is, until this season.
Rucker started year with low-A South Bend, where he appeared in seven games strictly out of the bullpen. He made quite an impression in that time, striking out 22 batters in just 12.2 innings to go along with zero walks. That earned him a quick promotion to high-A Myrtle Beach, where he remained in the bullpen until the end of May, at which point the team decided to give him a chance in the starting rotation.
Rucker has responded by posting some of the best numbers among starters in the entire organization. In his 13 starts (73 innings) with Myrtle Beach, he has posted an 2.22 ERA (2.93 FIP) while striking out 70 batters and only allowing only 16 walks. He has posted a 25.8 percent strikeout rate and a 5.4 percent walk rate during his time in High-A and does not look to be slowing down any time soon.
As the 23-year-old righty continues to develop as a starter, he provides Cubs fans yet another arm to dream about making an impact in the big-league rotation one day. Rucker recently took some time out from dominating Carolina League hitters to answer some questions for me and I have posted his answers below.
Cubs Insider: Who introduced you to baseball and at what age did you start thinking about playing professionally?
Rucker: My brother played baseball and my sister played softball through high school. Baseball was my first sport, and really my only sport starting at a young age. It has always been a dream to play MLB baseball, but I didn’t really start thinking about it until high school, when scouts approached me about it.
CI: Growing up, was there a specific player/team that you followed?
Rucker: Born in Mississippi in the 90’s, my family was big Braves fans. I saw my first Major League game at Turner Field. Chipper Jones was my favorite player.
CI: What player(s), if any, do you model your game after?
Rucker: Nobody really. There are a number of pitchers that are fun to watch in the big leagues: Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez, and Greg Maddux (when he still played) just to name a few.
CI: Can you describe where you were/how you reacted when you found out the Cubs had drafted you? Were you expecting them to take you or were other teams heavily involved during the draft process?
Rucker: I was excited! I living in Provo, UT at the time. Since I was the Cubs’ first pick on day 3 of the draft, they told me the night before that they were planning on taking me. Couldn’t be happier with this organization.
CI: Can you describe yourself as a pitcher? What types of pitches are in your arsenal? How do you keep hitters on their toes?
Rucker: Fastball command is certainly my biggest asset. I know if it’s going to be a good day or a rough day based solely on that. My changeup has been a big point of emphasis, especially now as a starting pitcher. I also threw a slider. I’m a pitcher that wants to get ahead in counts and attack hitters. I move the ball around the zone and make sure hitters don’t get too comfortable in the box.
CI: You have posted solid numbers at each level since you were drafted, but one that really stands out is your low walk totals (18 walks in 102.2 professional innings). Have you always been a command pitcher and how do you do such a great job managing the strike zone?
Rucker: I would much rather challenge a guy when I am down in the count than pitch around them. You can’t be afraid of contact as a pitcher. The best thing you could do is throw only one pitch and get an out. Control escapes everyone here and there, but the quicker adjustments can be made, the better.
CI: What is your favorite part about being a member of the Cubs organization?
Rucker: Favorite part about the Cubs is how player-centered they are. Everything in place is for our betterment. The culture is great, and guys buy in.
Cubs Insider: Who is your biggest role model?
Rucker: Biggest role model has been my dad. He has been my biggest supporter since Day 1, and helped me get to where I am today.
With their top names promoted or traded away to bring big-league talent to Chicago, the Cubs have seen a shift in the makeup of their prospect lists. Rucker and other pitchers are going to be dominating the organization’s rankings for the next few seasons, so get used to hearing his name moving forward.