[This article was written by Jeff Magida back in November of 2012]
Intensity Meets Desire
As soon as a player gets drafted from high school, he is forced to pick which option will be more beneficial for him. The player can either play baseball in college or sign with the Major League organization. If in fact he does sign, then he becomes consumed with the burning desire to make it to the big leagues as soon as possible.
Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim played in his first professional game at 19-years-old. The American League Most Valuable Player Award may be awarded to the 21-year-old for his performance this season.
Recent New York Yankees first round draft pick Ty Hensley proclaimed he wants to be on a major league roster by his 21st birthday. Why can’t Evan Rutckyj dream big as well?
The New York Yankees selected Rutckyj in the 16th round of the 2010 MLB Draft. The Windsor, Ontario native signed and reported to Yankee headquarters in Tampa, Fla.
“It’s awesome especially with their background,” Rutckyj said of being drafted by the Yankees. “All their championships and everything and just that people recognize you as a Yankee is unbelievable.”
This, though, was not his first time getting drafted. The Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League picked the tall, scrawny right defenseman in the 11th round of the 2008 OHL Priority Draft.
Rutckyj grew up playing both sports. Baseball infatuated his father whereas hockey is the most popular sport in the country. He laced up his skates in the winter and trotted to the mound in the summer.
At 6-foot-5, he was an aggressor on the ice. Forwards feared him as they entered his zone. Yet, he could not commit to the sport. He believed he had more potential throwing over 60 feet away.
“I was a defenseman but being a left-handed pitcher I thought my opportunity was better in baseball and I think I pretty much choose the right path. So far I mean I’m not doing too bad right now.”
Rutckyj spent the 2010 season refining his mechanics in Tampa. The southpaw pitched one inning for the Gulf Coast League Yankees.
“Basically what they worked on was like going straight towards home plate and just try to smooth everything out I guess,” Rutckyj said. “Like I was kinda robotic when I first got drafted and I’m still pretty raw now but in 2010 I was really raw. I just tried to like smooth out my delivery and get everything working together.”
The 2011 season was his first full season in the minor leagues. He set out to take advantage of the new skills he learned.
“It was up and down. I was a little bit inconsistent. I would have one really good outing and then one really bad one and then one really good one.”
Rutckyj started eight games for the GCL Yankees. He went 5-3 while posting a 4.76 earned run average. He pitched 45.1 innings and accumulated 37 strikeouts to 24 walks.
The Yankees protect young pitchers from exceeding high pitch counts early in their career. Strengthening the throwing arm is one method used to develop high school prospects.
“Well building up your arm is basically long-toss throws,” Staten Island Yankees pitching coach Chantres said. “Basically you need to have a long-toss program where it strengthens up your arm and we have a couple of programs that he did and he got his velocity up.”
This year Rutckyj eclipsed 100 innings. Towards the end of the season, his arm basically felt dead yet he felt prepared handling the increased load.
“We also protect them by watching his pitches in the bullpen and his pitches in the game because you don’t really want to get a guy at that young age to throw over 100 pitches in a game and all of his bullets are used and when he is 22-years-old he’s worn out,” Chantres added.
Rutckyj’s 2012 season was a long and winding one. He went into Spring Training aimed with the lofty goal of joining Single-A Charleston RiverDogs roster. Equipped with a fastball ranging in the low to mid 90s and two good secondary pitches in a slider and changeup, Rutckyj excelled.
“[In] Spring Training and in the offseason I worked really hard,” Rutckyj said. “I didn’t walk anybody and I don’t think I had one walk through Spring Training and didn’t give up many runs, barely any hits, and had a ton of strikeouts too.”
The southpaw fulfilled his goal earning a spot in the RiverDogs rotation. This challenged the strict routine of bringing up high school pitchers. Typically, they begin in the Gulf Coast League, head north to Staten Island, and return south to Charleston. Rutckyj, however, skipped the short-league season.
“Not too many people make that jump and I was pretty pumped when I got sent there first.”
Rutckyj’s started six games in the South Atlantic League. He won three and lost two while posting a 4.50 earned run average. He struck out 23 batters but walked 14 in only 24 innings.
“In Spring Training I executed on all my pitches and when I went to Charleston my first outing was pretty good and didn’t walk anybody. But I got a couple of outings were I walked two or three people and that is what I was trying to minimize.”
Rutckyj’s stay in Charleston was short. He was demoted to Staten Island once that season began in June.
“I tried to look at it positively. I didn’t want to be negative about it or anything because that probably would have set me back,” Rutckyj added. “I mean it sucked obviously to go from Charleston to Staten Island, as you know it’s kinda like a demotion. I just had to stay positive, keep working and battle through it.”
Rutckyj’s first start with the Baby Bombers was mixed. He lasted 4.2 innings and gave up three runs. He walked four batters but did fan seven Brooklyn Cyclones.
Next start was dominant though. He allowed one earned in six plus innings and decreased his walks from four to two.
Throughout the short season, Staten Island Yankees pitching coach Carlos Chantres noticed improvement in Rutckyj. He was impressed with the left-hander’s arsenal as well as his attitude.
“He is a very polished 20-year-old, his demeanor and the way he wants to pitch when he goes after guys,” Chantres said. “He’s got some pitches that if he polishes them up he can probably pitch in the big leagues for a long time. He’s a left-handed pitcher that hits 93 with a smooth delivery and he’s got some kinks he needs to work on but overall I thought he looked pretty good.”
In 15 games for Staten Island, Rutckyj complied a 5-6 record. His five wins tied for first on the team and his 63 strikeouts led the team. However, he ranked second in total walks on the Baby Bombers and finished tied for fifth in the New York-Penn League.
“I thought like this year I was still a little inconsistent but I was more consistent than the year before. So there was a little bit of progression there,” Rutckyj said.
Despite his disappointing statistics, Rutckyj and his three pitches project well for the future. His fastball may already be big league ready.
He can touch 94-miles-per hour and usually has it sitting in the lows 90s. The fastball tends to fade and even sink a little bit when crossing the plate.
“Well, obviously his fastball is probably his pitch and I would say that mostly about 99% of pitchers that fastball is your pitch, Chantres said.” “Both secondary pitches are really good. He threw them at any count. He threw them behind in the count, threw them early in the count, and threw them for strikes. So when you have a kid like that that can throw all three pitches for strikes those are the kids that move quick.”
This season, Rutckyj was more consistent with his slider. Each pitch had the same movement and same velocity. The changeup improved as well. He is confident he can dominate opposing batters with the off-speed pitch and throw it during any count.
“My stuff improved a lot. My slider and my changeup are pretty much big league pitches now and then on my fastball I basically have to work on commanding my fastball and once I do that I will be set to go,” Rutckyj added.
Command prevented him from achieving the success he desired. He is working on improving the consistency of his delivery. He envisions the same delivery for each pitch and the desire to limit himself from falling off the dirt base.
“He needs to polish off some of his delivery kinks. When he does that he’s not going to walk many guys and obviously you’re not going to find too many pitchers that don’t walk guys because everybody walks guys as that is just part of the game,” Chantres said. “But he will cut down his walks if he fixes some delivery stuff that we worked on and keeping that same aggressiveness with the new delivery will definitely bring his walks down.”
This offseason, Rutckyj will focus on his front glove arm. If he does not yank the glove down or away during his delivery, pitches will be commanded more effectively.
Besides polishing his delivery, the left-hander wants to add ten more pounds. Already weighing a comfortable 230 pounds, Rutckyj wants to be 240 pounds when Spring Training begins. “I’m pretty big right now but they say I can put on ten pounds and still not be too big.”
Rutckyj has the desire to improve. He takes failures personally and strives to be the best whenever he steps onto the mound. The intensity and confidence began on while playing on the ice.
“As a defenseman you have to be pretty much tough and got to take a lot of shit,” Rutckyj added. “I’m like that on the mound, I don’t care who is up to bat. Just be aggressive and have the tough guy mentality on the mound.”
“It can be one of his strengths if it doesn’t get too big,” Chantres said. “What I mean by that is you got to be confident the way he is but sometimes being too cocky can hurt you on the mound but overall it works for him so I wouldn’t take that away. He’s been really, really good.”
Similarly to last Spring Training, Rutckyj wants to make another great impression. His aspiration is to begin the 2013 season with Class-A Advanced Tampa Yankees. To do so he must show better command of his three pitches.
“I’m going to go in with the mindset to make high-A Tampa and that’s my goal. The past year my goal was to get to Charleston and this year I’m going to go to Spring Training and try to make high-A Tampa and if I go to Charleston it’s not terrible, but I’m going to go there looking to make Tampa.”
Chantres admires the way Rutckyj thinks. He appreciates the goals he makes and his attempts at completing them. Yet, he believes Rutckyj will once again start the upcoming season with the Charleston RiverDogs.
“He’s going to have to come in ready to go and to make that Charleston team for me. I don’t have all those answers and my answer is not the final one but for me he’s got to come into Spring Training proven that he got better, his delivery is better, and he can pitch in that level.
"When he was up there he didn’t do a bad job, he showed he can pitch, so he needs to come in and in good shape to be that number one and hopefully get out of Charleston quick if he makes it there.”
No matter where Rutckyj begins the season he is ready to ascend through the minor leagues. Next season, he envisions himself racking up more innings and responding with a breakout season.
“I don’t really expect anything less with what he showed me last year,” Chantres said. “He pitched extremely well in big situations for us and I would expect for him to be the number one guy in Charleston or the number two, to come in and dominate that league and get out of their quick to see if he can make a push for the Tampa Yankees in the middle or towards the end of the season.”
With the swagger and confidence of a Major League starting pitcher, Rutckyj is aiming towards arriving in the big leagues sooner than later. The left-hander enjoys putting on a show.