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The Perseverance of Drew Rucinski

March 25th, 2015
deception + movement = drew rucinski

His deception + movement + control guided Drew Rucinski‘s improbable rise from the obscurity of the independent leagues to the major leagues in just under a year.

If you were watching the Angel game last Tuesday and saw this guy subbing for CJ Wilson at the last minute who then proceeded to no-hit the Colorado Rockies regulars for four straight innings like they were a bunch of defenseless blades of grass stretching up for the sun only to be cut down by an arsenal of 94 mph four-seam fastballs with zigzag movement, change-ups that nibbled on the corners, and splitters that appeared to be thigh high fastballs but dove to the ground just as the batters committed to their swings, you might have asked yourself, “Who is that guy?”

Well, I’ll tell you.  That, was Drew Rucinski.

If you’ve never heard of him, I wouldn’t blame you.  The major league scouting cadre that watched him pitch from 2008 to 2011 for Ohio State University were so unimpressed that Drew went undrafted at the conclusion of his four-year collegiate career.  He didn’t have a bad season his senior year — he went 5-3 with a 2.95 ERA, but he had a disastrous junior year posting a 5.45 ERA as he spent the season fighting a horribly split nail on the middle finger of his throwing hand.  Before that, he spent his first two seasons as a Buckeye as a reliever, although he did lead the Big Ten in wins his sophomore year with 12, all of which came in relief.

Anyway, since the invitation to pitch in low minors for a major league team never showed up in the mail, the 22-year-old Rucinski believed in himself enough to commit to plan B — join the Rockford (Illinois) Riverhawks, one of the 12-teams that comprise the independent Frontier League.  His mantra was to just play as hard as he could and wait for an opportunity to show up.  In June, his first one did, sort of, as the Cleveland Indians signed him as a free agent, but looking at it now, it seems like the Indians just wanted him to be an organizational guy, someone clubs hire to fill up roster space so there would be enough guys for the actual prospects to have a team to play on.  Drew spent the remainder of that season bouncing around the bottom of the Indians’ minor league system, playing short stints for three different clubs as the year played out.

In March of 2012 Drew was invited to Cleveland’s minor league camp, but he was quickly released.  So as the new baseball season was about to begin, Rucinski found himself back to square one, as he hooked up once again with the Rockford Riverhawks, refusing to let his baseball dream die.  His belief in his ability was not unfounded, however, as he started 15 games that season and had a nice 3.13 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, and a 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings to show for it.  Unfortunately, the opportunity to climb back on with a major league franchise never came knocking, so when the calendar reset in 2013, Drew decided to play once more for Rockford, this time as a 24-year-old independent league player hoping that some scout would finally see something in him, before he became too old to be a noticeable commodity.

The Angels’ Consensus Top Prospects

March 16th, 2015

 

With FanGraphs’ somewhat random Top 18 prospects list now up, every major online baseball publication (that I’m aware of) has released their Angels top prospect rankings for 2015. We gave a lot of thought to doing a list of our own, but with a minimal first-hand knowledge of the players and little time to collect the variety of opinions from numerous sources that’s needed to devise a comprehensive ranking, we thought it much easier to coalesce all the information already out there into a single super list. So we did.

Using the varied lists of MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, ESPN, Minor League Ball, and FanGraphs as our dataset*, we added up the respective ranking of each player on each list, then divided by six to get the average and determine the top 10. Twenty-five different prospects appeared on at least one of the lists, and only five were on all six. For those players who were on some lists and not others, a ranking of 15, 19, or 21 was given, depending on the number of players in the original list.

*There is a lot of great prospect analysis out there from Angels-centric sites, but for the purposes of this exercise I’ve omitted their 2015 rankings. I find that some fan predictions are overly optimistic, and I didn’t want to include some lists and not others, so I went with none.

Things got slightly more complicated when determining the players’ overall grades. Not everyone uses the 20-80 scouting scale in their projections, so we used Kiley McDaniel’s primer as a way to translate letter grades (Minor League Ball) and projected roles (Baseball Prospectus) into a single standardized scale. For instance, a C+ grade became a 50, a no. 2/3 starter ceiling became a 65. Once translated, the scores were averaged and rounded to the nearest five to create each player’s potential overall “Future Value” (FV). Keith Law and Baseball America don’t include overall grades on their rankings, and thus weren’t included in the FV calculation.

Just to be clear: None of this is new information, and is not a scouting report. It’s simply a consolidation of six of the major top prospects lists into one general summary to paint a picture of where the scouting community seems to believe the Angels farm system stands heading into 2015.

Stat Sunday: Weaver’s Velocity Dip

March 15th, 2015

 

When it comes to spring story lines, there are never really any surprises. You can always count on a healthy serving of redemption, some BSOHL, and a dash of weird injuries. In Angels camp, another narrative has become something of an annual ritual: The chronicle of Jered Weaver’s ever-diminishing velocity.

Weaver has never been one to blow people away, but he’s dropped from a peak average velocity of 91 mph in 2010 to just over 87 mph in 2013-2014. This year, his first spring start in a PitchF/X park revealed a further drop in velo, with Weaver sitting at 82-84 and topping out at just 85 mph. It’s way too early to come to any conclusions about what that might mean come Opening Day – the right-hander didn’t express concern when prompted on the subject, seeming more annoyed than anything — but it’s worth wondering what might be cause for worry if the velocity doesn’t come back. If anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, here, it’s Weaver, but it still doesn’t hurt to take a peek under the hood.

 

Weaver

Via Brooks Baseball and FanGraphs

 

The first thing to note is that velocity has never been a determining factor in Weaver’s ability to miss bats. Other than the extreme outlier that was the 2010 season*, Weaver has always maintained a swinging strike rate (SwStr%) between 8-10 percent, and his lowest average fastball velocity of any season — 87.33 mph, in 2013 — actually coincides with his second-best SwStr%. No matter the velocity, whiffs haven’t been a concern.

*It still blows my mind that Weaver was once the MLB strikeout king.

Where things do start to look dicey is when you dive into his chase rates. As noted handsome blogger Jeff Sullivan pointed out last October, hitters were far more reticent about swinging at Weaver’s offerings out of the zone in 2014 than they were in seasons past. After three consecutive years of an out-of-zone swing percentage (O-Swing%) between 27.5%-28.9%, Weaver saw his O-Swing% plummet to 22.9%, which was the fourth-worst* mark in baseball (min. 100 IP). This wasn’t just a case of Weaver throwing fewer pitches in the zone overall — his Zone% actually increased by nearly two percent — it was batters not being fooled by pitches on the fringes of the strike zone, for which his diminished velocity could be to blame. (This also goes a long way to explain the spike in BB%.) Can’t imagine this getting better with even less velo.

*Ahead of only Ubaldo Jimenez, C.J. Wilson, and Hector Santiago. Nope, that’s not concerning at all…

The final thing to note (for now, at least) is how another drop in velocity might impact a relative effectiveness of his off-speed pitches. The big selling point of Weaver’s change-up is that it comes out of his hand looking exactly like his fastball, only to come in 8-10 mph slower. If the difference in velocity between the fastball and change-up shrinks significantly — say, to the 6 mph of last week’s spring start — there’s a chance batters will have an easier time adjusting between one and the other. Let’s hope we never have to find out.

Non-Roster Invitees to Watch

March 13th, 2015

 

Ed note: Meant for this to go up before games started, but it wasn’t to be. Luckily, it’s still relevant! Enjoy.

Every spring, there are always 15-20 guys in camp with the Angels that you’ve either never heard of or thought had retired several years earlier. With so many new players running around, it can be tough to know which are worth your attention. Of course we’re all watching when top prospects like Sean Newcomb or Alex Yarbrough take the field, but they’re still a ways from contributing in Anaheim. What about the Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) with an outside chance of finding a way onto the 40-man roster when Tyler Skaggs eventually goes to the 60-Day DL? Who are those players?

Here are five guys worth watching this month:

 

Charles Cutler - #97

C/DH

Meet your new favorite Angel underdog. Cutler, 28, was signed to a minor-league deal in November after hitting .310/.415/.412 at the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate in 2014.

Don’t let “28” and “Double-A” scare you off. Yes, last season was Cutler’s fifth consecutive year at that level, but it’s not his fault no one ever promoted him. The Cal alum owns a cumulative .313/.406/.435 line over the last four seasons, never turning in an OBP under .397 and tallying nine more walks than strikeouts overall. A left-handed-hitting Chris Iannetta? Yes, please.

The catch, if there is one, is that Cutler hasn’t accrued more than 350 plate appearances in a season since 2009. That, too, though, is not his fault. He hasn’t suffered a major injury since breaking his foot in 2010, so his playing-time issues are purely clerical. Until signing with the Angels this winter, Cutler had spent his entire professional career playing for National League organizations, meaning his opportunities to DH have been minimal. (Single-A and below use a designated hitter every game. Once in Double-A, though, the rules mostly mimic MLB’s.)

Given his complete lack of Triple-A experience, there’s pretty much zero chance Cutler makes the team out of camp. However, if his elite OBP skills carry over to the PCL and Matt Joyce is needed in left field after the Hamilton hammer comes down, Cutler could find his way to Anaheim as a platoon mate for C.J. Cron and/or Chris Iannetta. One can dream, anyway.

 

Marc Krauss – #39

1B/OF

As much as I want Cutler to be the go-to lefty bench bat, the early clubhouse leader for that role is probably Krauss. The former Astro has struggled against big-league pitching (.615 OPS) in his first two cups of coffee—hence his availability on waivers—but his track record in the minors (.854 OPS) and his big-man build (6’2, 245 lb) seem to portend a possible future as a left-handed C.J. Cron.

The main difference between Krauss and Cron, other than the two year age-gap, is that Marc actually knows how to take a pitch. He has a career walk rate of over 13% in more than 2,200 minor-league plate appearances, and that rate increased to 15% at Triple-A in 2013-2014.

Standing between Krauss and even replacement-level performance in Anaheim is his strikeout rate. He didn’t fan all that often (~21%) in the minors, but once in the majors he started whiffing like crazy. A K rate of 28% might work for a prodigious slugger like Chris Davis, but for someone with a more moderate power ceiling like Krauss it’s pretty much untenable. Considering that 93 percent of his MLB plate appearances so far have come with the platoon advantage, it’s worth wondering whether paring down those strikeouts is a feasible goal. I say, “No,” but only because I want Cutler to usurp Krauss on the depth chart.

 

Roger Kieschnick – #54

Previewing the AL West: Seattle

March 9th, 2015

 

2014 Results

87-75, 3rd in AL West

RS: 634 (t-18th) | RA: 554 (1st!)

Pythag W-L: 91-71 (6th)

Last year the Mariners came thisclose to their first postseason berth since 2001, staving off elimination until final day of the regular season. Strong pitching led the way in Seattle, as the collective staff put together the second-best ERA+ (114) in the American League and allowed the fewest runs in all of baseball. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma again paced the rotation, while surprising efforts from Chris Young and Roenis Elias kept the club afloat as top prospects James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and Danny Hultzen all worked their way back from major shoulder injuries.

On the offensive side of things, Robinson Cano proved that a (non-righty) big free agent signing can produce in Safeco’s spacious confines, even if it does diminish his power significantly. The second baseman batted .314/.382/.452 with 14 home runs and 37 doubles on the year, and eclipsed 155 games played for the eighth (!) consecutive season. Cano’s partner in crime on offense was third baseman Kyle Seager, who went from being a popular choice for the game’s Most Underrated Player to an All-Star Gold Glover with a career-best 126 OPS+ and a seven-year, $100 million contract extension in his back pocket.

Outside of Cano and Seager, though, the offense still struggled. Logan Morrison was the only other Mariner with more than 300 PA to post a 100 OPS+ or greater, and the DH spot proved to be an exceptionally large black hole. Sixteen different guys got at least one AB as the team’s designated hitter, combining for a disastrous .567 OPS — meanwhile, Detroit’s DHs slugged .561.

***

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!