After spending the first 5 ½ years of his career in the Yankees organization, left-hander Evan Rutckyj had a bit of culture shock coming to the Braves. They selected him in the December Rule 5 draft.
“Obviously it’s different,” the Canadian reliever said at the beginning of spring training. “New organization, didn’t really know anybody here, just a couple of guys who used to be with the Yankees. But everybody has treated me like family so far. Everybody’s really nice.”
Rutckyj, 23, mentioned a difference he immediately noticed in the organizations.
“I feel like we can talk to anybody here,” said Rutckyj, (pronounced RUT-skee). “It’s kind of different from the Yankees, where if one of the coordinators or somebody walks by you, like, put your head down and mind your own business. But here everybody wants you to talk to them.”
That can be particularly beneficial for a guy who hasn’t pitched above Double-A but needs to have a good spring to justify keeping him on the 25-man roster. Comfort level can be key.
“I feel like everybody wants to work with you here,” he said, “and I have a good shot this year, hopefully.”
The problem for Rutckyj is the Braves must keep him in the big leagues all season or offer him back to the Yankees for half of the original $50,000 Rule 5 claiming price. And in a year when they have experienced options — Alex Torres, Ian Krol — it will probably take better than what he’s done so far.
Two other lefty candidates, Matt Marksberry and Hunter Cervenka, were dropped from the spring-training roster Monday. Marksberry was optioned to Double-A and non-roster invitee Cervenka reassigned to minor league camp.
In three Grapefruit League appearances, Rutckyj has allowed one hit, one unearned run and three walks with two strikeouts. The walks are the problem. Teams don’t like them from any reliever and certainly not from a situational lefty.
Rutckyj had one strikeout in a perfect inning in his first appearance, but allowed three walks in 1 2/3 innings over his past two games.
“He needs to be more consistent,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the 6-foot-5 hard thrower. “We still think highly of him; he’s got a good arm. His curveball is a little inconsistent, but when he throws it, it bites. I can see where some of our scouts liked the spin rate on his curveball.”
Rutckyj had 365 strikeouts in 377 innings in just over five minor league seasons with the Yankees, but also issued 191 walks. He raised his strikeout ratio to a career-high 12.0 per nine innings in 2015, totaling 82 strikeouts with 21 walks and four homers allowed in 61 2/3 innings in 36 appearances in high Single-A and Double-A.
He had a career-low 1.132 WHIP (walks-plus-hits per inning) in 11 appearances in Double-A.
Whatever happens this spring — whether he makes the team, goes back to the Yankees, or clears waivers and stays in the Braves organization — Rutckyj will have have learned plenty from veterans such as Jason Grilli.
“Grilli, all those guys,” he said. “The cool thing is, they want you to talk to them, ask them questions. You can learn a lot from that. Grilli, sitting there having breakfast with him, he’ll start the conversation with you, which I think is pretty cool.”
“I’m happy to be here. (A whole lot) of arms. Lot of good lefties, too, like Krol and Torres and all those guys. It’s cool.”
As for his status as a Rule 5 player, Rutckyj said at the beginning of camp: “I’m not thinking about that at all. I’m competing against guys that have major league time; meanwhile I have 17 innings above A-ball?
“But I know my stuff plays as big-league stuff, so I’m not really worried about that. I’m just going to come to camp to compete and show what I can do.”