Evan Rutckyj (pronounced ROOT-ski) recently made his debut for the Charleston River Dogs, his first start in full season ball. Most people have never heard of this tall, Canadian born left handed pitcher. If Extended Spring Training was any indication, however, people will know who he is by the end of this season. A hockey player in his youth, the Yankees are hoping that toughness will translate to the mound.
Rutckyj is a 6-foot-5, 213-pound left handed pitcher out of Ontario, Canada. He was born on January 31, 1992, making him 20 years old, and was drafted in the 16th round of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft. At the time of the draft Rutckyj was a major project. He hadn’t switched to pitching full time until the age of 17, and had only had about 80 innings in a year and a half before being drafted. Given his size and projectability, the Yankees took a chance on him.
Last year Rutckyj lived up to his billing as a project. At times he looked quite dominant, but inconsistency plagued his season. His stat line to finish the year wasn’t pretty, with a 4.76 ERA and 24 walks in just 45.1 IP. He did manage to strike out 37 and finished the season 5-3.
The coaches saw the potential though, and they sent him to Extended Spring Training this year to see how far he had come along in the off-season. Sure enough, Rutckyj was seen as the best pitcher at Extended Spring Training, and the coaches felt confident enough in his abilities to allow him to skip Staten Island and go straight to Charleston when a spot opened up.
His first start at Charleston was pure domination. He avoided the walks that he struggled with last season, and allowed just two hits in five innings en route to his first full season victory. Even more impressive, he struck out eight in that appearance. Keeping it in perspective, this is just one start. On the other hand, it’s probably his best start as a professional so far, and this can only bode well for his future.
As of now he has three pitches; the fastball, curve ball, and changeup. The fastball sits low 90’s and can get as high as 95 mph. If he continues to fill out, it is possible he could add even more velocity. As is the case with many lefties, the fastball has excellent tailing action.
His second pitch is his slider. He throws it at a hard 83 mph. Last year it was an unreliable pitch for him, but he worked hard on it in the offseason and Extended Spring Training, and coaches feel it is a plus pitch for him now. The changeup was a work in progress before this season, and I suspect he will continue to develop that pitch as time goes by. It is one of the hardest pitches to perfect after all.
It is difficult to predict the ceiling of such a raw talent, but he has the stuff and athleticism that could make him a middle to front end starter in the long term. If he has the gain in velocity that many are expecting of him, or he is able to harness the secondary pitches, he could have ace potential. As with many raw prospects in the low minors, the floor is on the opposite side of the spectrum. It’s possible a player like him flames out and never makes the majors. With the progress it appears he has made from last season, that is getting less and less likely.
The estimated time of arrival in the major leagues will be around 2015. Being in Charleston this season is a good sign, and if he continues to improve he should be in High-A next season. From there, he will move as fast or as slow as his performance allows.
Evan Rutckyj is a big guy possessing obvious athleticism. Players his size often have trouble repeating their delivery. This shouldn’t be a problem long term in a guy who has been able to excel in multiple sports and has improved his game in a short period of time. He may well be one of the biggest and best surprises of the 2012 season. Here’s to hoping Rutckyj becomes the next in a growing line of Canadians to make a splash in major league baseball.
He’ll pitch his second game of the season today for those who are interested in following.