Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Rusch joined the Tigers as a minor league free agent prior to the 2005 season, after a successful career at Columbia Green Community College. After spending serious time in extended spring training in 2005, Rusch joined the GCL Tigers in July, making seven appearances (6 starts) before the end of the season. Over 35.1 innings, Matt demonstrated exceptional control, issuing only two walks while striking out 16. In the end, Rusch finished his first season with the Tigers with a 3.06 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.
The Tigers were impressed with his organizational debut, and vaulted him to full-season ball for the 2006 season. While at West Michigan, Rusch teamed with the likes of Anthony Claggett, Orlando Perdomo, and Ricky Steik to form a dominating bullpen that helped lead the ‘Caps to the Midwest League title. After appearing in 39 games (80.1 innings) for the Whitecaps, Matt finished with a spectacular 1.79/0.91 line. Possibly the most impressive statistic Matt posted was his paltry 1.12 walk rate per nine innings. Not until the season's final month – when asked to start two games – did Rusch's ERA exceed 2.00, or his WHIP exceed 1.00.
Despite the dominating performances, Matt has been protected by his time in the bullpen. His fastball is underwhelming, sitting in the 88-91 range with impeccable control. He can spot both the four and two-seamer to both sides of the plate, as well as work the ladder when needed. His slurvy breaking ball has the potential to develop into an above-average pitch, but at this time it lacks consistent depth and bite. If he can begin to tighten the pitch up, his dominance should continue as he moves up the ladder. The command of his curveball is progressing, and he has shown the ability to bury it in the dirt for strikeouts when needed.
Matt's poise on the mound is outstanding; making him perfectly suited for high leverage roles, late in games. He refuses to become rattled, and often feeds off the energy of the moment. He is an average athlete who fields his position well and has a very good understanding of the tactical components of the game. With continued advancement of his curveball, and possibly the development of at least a "show-me" change-up, Rusch could become an even more legitimate late inning option.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG A
Matt has remained mostly healthy thus far in his professional career. Reports indicate that he has battled some minor back issues throughout his first two seasons in the Tiger organization, but there is little concern over the problem heading forward.
Rusch should move on to Lakeland for the 2007 season, where he will likely again team with Ricky Steik and Orlando Perdomo to close out games for the L-Tigers. He has the basic stuff to become an effective reliever, provided he isn't expected to work through a line-up more than once.
He was slightly older than his competition this season at West Michigan, and that trend will likely continue while at Lakeland this season. With a hot start to the season, the organization may be wise to challenge him with a slot in the Erie bullpen, hopefully getting him back on the solid side of the age-development curve. If Rusch can continue to retain respectable strikeout rates, he should remain at least reasonably successful against more advanced hitters.
Mark Anderson covers the Tigers' minor league system and all of minor league baseball for TigsTown.com. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.