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Monday, May 14, 2012

Rock Rucker one 'happy' camper

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A rare loss suffered by the annually dominant Russell County (Ala.) High School baseball team turned out to be Perfect Game’s gain at the 2012 PG Pre-Draft Showcase on Monday.

Top outfield prospect Rock Rucker received an invitation to the PG Pre-Draft in February but couldn’t immediately commit because there was a likely possibility that would Russell County would still be playing in the Alabama state playoffs. But it lost in the final quarterfinal round of the playoffs last Friday, so Rucker got on a plane and made his way to Eastern Iowa.

“I’m happy to be here,” Rucker said Monday morning from Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “Perfect Game always brings good competition with good kids, good guys, and I’ve seen a bunch of guys here that I’ve seen at past tournaments and past showcases. It’s always fun to come out here and perform for everybody. I make my own goals, but this is really just to have fun and play the game hard.”

Rucker, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound lefty hitter and thrower, is ranked the country’s No. 119 overall prospect and No. 6 in the state of Alabama. He originally lived in and attended school in Marietta, Ga., and moved to Alabama just this year. His talents traveled with him.

At Russell County, Rucker played for highly regarded coach Tony Rasmus, the father of Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus, Atlanta Braves minor-leaguer Cory Rasmus, St. Louis Cardinals farmhand Casey Rasmus and collegiate player Cyle Rasmus. Tony Rasmus led Russell County to a mythical national championship 2005, and has influenced a lot of young men during his coaching tenure.

“Tony Rasmus is a great coach, a great guy and he’s a good person,” Rucker said unabashedly. “He helped me get better playing under him, and he taught me a lot in just one season.”

Rucker was a 6-foot-1, 150-pound 13-year-old when he attended his first Perfect Game event, the 2006 East Pre-High School Showcase at Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Stadium. A PG scouting report from that event almost six years ago called Rucker a “projectable player that runs well and has a very strong arm for his age. Tall and lean, may see the mound before too long with clean arm action. At the plate, has some pop and centers the ball well.”

Monday’s PG Pre-Draft Showcase is Rucker’s 17th PG event since that first taste in 2006. He has played in 13 PG WWBA and one PG BCS Finals tournaments, including the 2010 and 2011 PG WWBA World Championships in Jupiter, Fla., and the 2008 and 2009 PG WWBA Underclass World Championships in Fort Myers, Fla. He performed at the 2011 Perfect Game National Showcase, and also at the East Coast Pro Showcase and at the Area Code Games

He played in his two PG WWBA World Championships with Team EvoShield (2010) and the Houston Banditos (2011), and was in uniform for Trombly Baseball (2008) and Team Georgia Baseball Academy (2009) at his two PG WWBA Underclass World Championship appearances. Rucker’s primary travel teams through the years have been Marucci Elite and Team Xtreme, having played in five and four tournaments, respectively, with those two highly successful organizations.

And moving from team-to-team has given him the experience of playing with a lot of outstanding prospects, including Perfect Game All-Americans Courtney Hawkins and C.J. Hinojosa with the Banditos in Jupiter last year. He counts the WWBA World Championship experiences among his favorites.

“My junior year, it was crazy because I didn’t know what to expect. We had like 80 to 90 teams and I was just a young cat,” he said. “My second I went with the Banditos and we lost in the elite eight to the (Texas) Sun Devils. But that’s a great experience, with a bunch of scouts and great competition. It’s always fun to perform in front of the scouts and show them what you’ve got in your tank, all your tools and everything.”

Perfect Game Director of Crosschecker Allan Simpson ranks Rucker as the 15th overall (high school, junior college, college) draft prospect in Alabama. That ranking puts him in Simpson’s “Group One” of a state’s draft prospects, which in turn projects him as a possible pick in any of the first three rounds.

In his report, Simpson said “Rucker passes the eye test as well as any player in the country and resembles Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward physically at the same age.”

Physical comparisons to Heyward aside, Rucker knows he has a lot of work to do to reach such a lofty status. Surrounded by so many outstanding prospects at Monday’s Pre-Draft Showcase, he was mostly in middle-of-the-pack territory in the morning’s workout session, recording an 88 mph outfield throw velocity and running a 6.84-second 60 yard dash.

A quick PG scouting blog after batting practice noted “Rock Rucker showed a smooth swing and has good power potential.”

Rucker is a bright young man – he sports a 3.50 GPA – and comes across as well-grounded. He has signed to play baseball at Auburn University in the powerful Southeastern Conference, and after making his official visit to Auburn in July of 2011, walked away immediately impressed.

“They’re a family orientated university,” he said. “Everywhere I went, it was ‘Hi Rock, how you doing, have a nice day.’ I liked that, and that’s what out me over the edge for Auburn.”

As for the upcoming MLB draft, Rucker admits he’ll be following it closely. When asked what his thoughts are on the pending event, he was short and to the point.

“I can’t wait,” he said, smiling broadly at the thought of one day playing professionally.

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