Elliott: Borucki better than most Jays starters through two starts

ryan-borucki.jpg

By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network

Parents, players and agents have been known to contact scouts over the years.

Usually the email includes the date and time of the player’s team’s next game or workout. The implication being “Please come see me pitch (hit).”

In the spring of 2012, Ryan Borucki sent out an mass email to all the Midwest area scouts and scouting directors.

Borucki, the current bright shining light of the Future Jays, wrote an email after he injured his elbow pitching for the Mundelein (Ill.) High School Mustangs.

“Ryan sent out a long email to all the scouts explaining how he felt a pop in his arm,” said former Blue Jays scout Mike Medici. “He wrote he had a partially had a torn UCL, but elected not to have surgery and would play first base the rest of the high school season. He wanted to help his school go to state playdowns.

“He was very appreciative of time the scouts had spent visiting him and basically thanked us all. He didn’t have to do that. I’ve seen a lot of guys blow their arms out before, but I’ve never seen an injured player write a thank you to scouts when he wasn’t even drafted.”

* * *

The email: 17872 Ryan Borucki, LHP, Mundelein High School (IL)

I want to thank everyone that came out to see me pitch over the winter. and spring. I will still be playing first base, but unfortunately probably not pitching for the rest of the season.

I hope I get the honor and privledge of pitching for you guys again in the future. 

Ryan Borucki

* * *
With some famous names: Facing the Detroit Tigers on Monday, Borucki allowed a run on four singles in the first inning and then settled himself down to set down the next 13 batters he faced. On the day he allowed two runs in seven innings to become the third pitcher in Blue Jays history to go more than six innings with two-or-less earned in each of his first two starts with the Jays. Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero did the same in 2009.

Borucki recorded eight strikeouts without a walk, tying Roy Halladay in 1998 against the Tigers for the second most by a Jay in their first home start, behind only Jose Nunez, who fanned 11 in 1987 against the Kansas City Royals. 

Halladay and Borucki are the only pitchers in franchise history with an eight strikeouts and zero walk performance in their first two games.

Borucki will start Sunday against the New York Yankees. 

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Squatting with care: To start at the start, Gary Bennett caught 13 years in the majors, mostly with the Philadelphia Phillies. He helps out travel teams who work out at Slammers Training Academy in Lake Forest, Ill. north of Chicago. Mundelein is the next burg over and Borucki’s high school team would come indoors to work out. So he first met Borucki when he was 14 or 15 years of age. 

“I caught Ryan a couple of times as a high schooler,” Bennett said. “He was 90-92 MPH, but one pitch would sink and the next one would cut. I had to start paying attention. It took me back to the low-level minor leaguer days when the ball just jumped. You knew once they figured it out, they would be fine.”

Bennett couldn’t compare Borucki to any minor-league lefties, but said his ball had movement similar to former Phillies right-handers Matt Beech a prospect, who pitched parts of three seasons with the Phillies and Larry Mitchell, a fifth rounder from James Madison, whose fastball had real good life, Both pitchers have the ability to make the ball “cut and/or sink.”

Ryan’s father, Ray Borucki, a former infielder who played five seasons in the Phillies system, peaking with the triple-A 1982 Oklahoma ‘89ers, is one of many ex pros who help out with the Slammers travel teams.

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Mike with the special eyes: Borucki came out of the gate on March 14, 2012 as one high school senior to watch in Illinois. In his first outing his velocity was 90-92 MPH and his changeup worked extremely well.

“His first start was a crazy spring day -- 75 degrees -- against Hoffman Estates (HS),” said Medici, who loved Borucki’s fastball and change. Plus, “You could dream on the curveball.” 

From that moment. Borucki was a “must see.” Crosschecker Tom Burns was scheduled to see Borucki. Scouting director Andrew Tinnish (Burlington, Ont.) was excited about Borucki, as he had seen him in 2011 at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif. 

After a no-hitter against Cary-Grove in March, Borucki’s next start was on the spring trip. Chicago high schools do not go to Florida or Arizona. Rather they head five hours south to better weather in Marion, Ill., home to the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League.  

Borucki was on the all-turf mound at Rent One Park in the last week of March. Burns, then a Blue Jays scout, and Medici were there to evaluate. Borucki’s foot slipped on the all-turf mound. He felt a tweak in the left arm and a partial tear of his elbow. He would need Tommy John surgery

Hence the email.

 High school days with the Mundelein Mustangs

High school days with the Mundelein Mustangs

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How 'bout those Mustangs: And the Mundelein Mustangs continued their season. Sure enough strange things happen in the heat of a game. Suddenly ... injured pitcher/first baseman Borucki had to make a quick throw to third in April. That led to him seeking a second opinion. The doctor said he was free to pitch as long as he realized his elbow could go at any point. 

“He lets it rip and it didn’t hurt,” Medici said. Borucki was told if he didn’t have any pain, he could resume pitching. 

Now after missing most of the spring of his senior year, Borucki was ready to audition again. It was a long road back. 

Most clubs scratched him off their lists when he injured his elbow. Miami Marlins area scout Kevin Ibach, now with the Tampa Bay Rays and Medici, let go by Blue Jays scouting director Rob Parker, and now a Texas Rangers scout, were the only two to keep steady tabs on Borucki, along with the New York Mets.

Ibach and Medici would go to see a Mundelein game, Borucki wouldn’t pitch and his father Ray Borucki would apologize to the scouts. The Mustangs used him out of the bullpen.  

The first time Medici saw him after his outing on the all-turf mound, Borucki pitched one inning for the Mundelein JayVees. He recalls texting a quick update: “He’s hurt and he’s throwing harder (92-93 MPH).”

The Jays were in on Borucki -- IF they had money left over. Burns and Medici saw Borucki in May and they saw Borucki use a fastball and change (he did not throw curveballs) and “most of all,” according to Burns, the lefty “looked healthy.”

Tinnish called Medici about the 12th round to say “we’re taking Borucki in the 15th ... if he’s still there.” The Jays were waiting to sign right-hander Marcus Stroman, selected 22nd over all from Duke. Stroman was given $1.8 million US.

Borucki was asked by teams if he would be willing to lower his price for a signing bonus (due to his injury) and said no each time. He figured he might not be drafted at all. 

Medici estimated that if Borucki, who helped Mundelein to 34 wins and a spot in the sectional, had not been injured he would have went in the third or fourth round. Borucki and his parents, Jackie and Ray, were to flown to Toronto. The lefty was examined by a Jays doctor and threw a bullpen before the Jays played the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

 Ray and Ryan Borucki on their visit to the Rogers Centre in 2012 after the June draft. 

Ray and Ryan Borucki on their visit to the Rogers Centre in 2012 after the June draft. 

The Jays gave 15th rounder Borucki an above-slot $426,000 US bonus, enough to keep the lefty from pitching for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. They made this decision knowing Tommy John surgery was somewhere in his future. 

“Mike maintained contact with the family and the relationship helped us ultimately sign him,” Burns said. I ran into the most veteran scout from the Midwest last week. He told me that, “Mike Medici is best scout in my area.” 

The Jays decided that they liked Borucki better than LHP Ryan Kellogg (Whitby, Ont.) of the Ontario Prospects, who they had selected in the 12th round. Kellogg accepted an Arizona State scholarship and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in fifth round three years later.

* * *
Expect a bump: After pitching six innings in 2012 for the Rookie-Class Gulf Coast Jays, Borucki underwent Tommy John surgery the next spring. The operation was performed by Dr. James Andrews himself. 

“Dr. Andrews told Ryan ‘If you were at 92 before, you’ll throw 95 no problem,’” Medici said. “With Tommy John surgery, the big thing if you have a strong work ethic and are diligent, you are going to come back stronger. That was never any doubt about Ryan’s work ethic.”

The lefty threw a bullpen in Chicago when he was allowed to by Dr. Andrews and was 88-89 MPH with command, which usually comes last.  

* * *
Bad day in Dunedin: Bourcki spent 2014, his first season post-surgery at rookie-class Bluefield (eight games) and class-A Vancouver (five games) working 57 innings. Then in 2015, he treaded water: at Vancouver (two games) and the Gulf Coast (one game) due to bone spur in his elbow and shoulder issues limiting him to 5 2/3 innings.

In 2016, he started the season at class-A Dunedin. It did not go well, as the late Tom Cheek would have said. 

Like April 26, when the Tampa Yankees hit four home runs off the lefty in a span of six hitters on the way to an 11-5 win before 712 fans at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. It went like this: 

No. 9 hitter Michael O’Neill led off the third with a homer to left field. 

After a single and an out, 1B Billy Fleming homered to left centre.

3B Miguel Andujar, who now plays at the small band box in the Bronx, went back-to-back with a home run to left field.

And 2B Abiatal Avelino went back-to-back-to-back, homering to centre. 

Bourcki was 1-4 with a 14.40 ERA in six starts -- allowing 12 homers in 20 innings -- when he was demoted to class-A Lansing. The only two who had a higher ERA were Aaron Loup (four runs in two innings on a rebah assignment) and infielder Dickie Joe Thon, who allowed a run in 1/3 of an inning.

Pitching coach Jeff Ware is given credit for turning the lefty’s season around. In 20 starts for the Lugnuts, he went 10-4 with a 2.41 ERA, walking only 26 and striking out 107 in 115 2/3 innings.

He started the 2017 season at Dunedin and had much better success -- going 6-5 with a 3.58 ERA in 18 starts -- before being moved to double-A New Hampshire -- 2-3, 1.94 in seven starts -- and one start at triple-A Buffalo.

This season he began at Buffalo, going 6-5 with a 3.27 ERA in 13 starts.

* * *
And the Lyon roared: Borucki reminds long-time Jays observers of another pick -- 14th rounder Brandon Lyon of the Dixie State Trailblazers. Lyon was drafted in the 14th round in 1999. He made his debut in 2000 with class-A Queens and the next year was pitching in the “TV league.”

In 2001, Lyon started at double-A Tennessee, then went to triple-A Syracuse and was 5-4 with a 4.29 ERA in 11 starts, walking 15 and striking out 35 in 63 innings. 

Dixie State was a Junior College at the time when Lyon was drafted by Marteese Robinson. Tim Huff became the area scout and cultivated the relationship. Tim Wilken and Chris Buckley both scouted Lyon in the spring. 

Lyon went on to pitch 12 seasons in the majors for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, the Tigers and the Jays. 

* * *
The debut: Oddly enough Medici was in Auburn watching the Doubledays, a former Blue Jays farm team, host the West Virginia Black Bears on June 26. For most of the year he has amateur coverage of Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin for the Rangers. The trip to upstate New York was part of his pro coverage.

Meanwhile in the great state of Texas his first major league game, the former Mundelein Mustang lefty, was making his debut against the World Series Houston Astros. At 8 EDT Medici watched the Astros-Blue Jays game on his phone.

“I told his dad I was fist pumping,” the scout said, which really didn’t mesh with what was happening at Falcon Park in Auburn.

“He’s always gone from one end of the dugout to the other fist pumping everyone,” said Medici, who thought, “Good for you he’s not doing anything different. I noticed he had to turn a couple of guys around. The thing that is so special about Ryan is that he is the same kid today as he was when he was 17.”

Borucki pitched six innings allowing two runs on six hits and four walks, while giving his team a chance to win, He struck out Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Marisnick and Brian McCann.

Mediici flew home Monday landing in time to see Borucki turn in another quality start against the the Tigers.

“I could not be more proud of him, he looked like the same .,. he has not changed.”