Sunday, July 13, 2014

Drew Rucinski, #53

On Thursday, twenty-five year old right-handed pitcher Drew Rucinski made his major debut in relief for the Angels against the Rangers. His performance was not memorable, as he came on in the ninth inning with a 15-4 lead, and allowed 4 hits and 2 runs while recording a strikeout. It was also a short stay in the majors for Rucinski, who was optioned back to AA two days later. My interest in Rucinski stems from the fact that he pitched at Ohio State, and is at least the 53rd former Buckeye to play in the majors as well as the fourth this season (Nick Swisher, Eric Fryer, and fellow Angel farmhand JB Shuck).

Rucinski’s road to the majors has been interesting, both as an amateur and a professional. He came to OSU from Oklahoma, an oddity for a program that generally draws on Ohio and adjacent states for all its talent. He spent his first two seasons in the bullpen, including a 2009 sophomore campaign in which he did yeoman work in middle relief for a staff that really only had three reliable pitchers: ace Alex Wimmers, closer Jake Hale, and Rucinski. That team won OSU’s first regular season Big Ten title in eight years and finished second at the Tallahassee regional.

Wimmers was a dominant pitcher at OSU, arguably the best in program history, and a first round pick of Minnesota, but has seen his career bog down first with control issues and then with injuries; he’s still in high-A in his age 25 season. Hale was a 27th round pick from Arizona, stuck in the minors for two seasons, and currently is pitching in the Atlantic League. Had you told me that the first (and quite possibly only) of OSU’s big three who would reach the majors would be Rucinski, I would have been surprised.

It wouldn’t have been the first time I underestimated Rucinski. He moved into OSU’s rotation for his junior season, a move I was all for, but when he was slated to be the ace in his senior season I expressed skepticism that he was up the typical standards of an OSU #1 pitcher. Rucinski pitched very well, though, leading to someone calling me out in the comments for having been wrong (I was thrilled to have been wrong!)

Rucinski was not drafted, but did sign with Cleveland as a free agent and spent 2011 in their system. He was subsequently released and pitching in the Frontier League before being signed by the Angels mid-season 2013. Last year he pitched well in five starts at high-A Inland Empire, and this year had a 2.35 ERA and 85 K/28 W in 95 innings at AA Arkansas. At the risk of underestimating him again, his prospect status is marginal, but it’s great to see that his perseverance paid off with a cup of coffee, and hopefully much more.