February 18th, 2018
Ryan Borucki is a LHP in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Last year Borucki enjoyed a breakout campaign that began in High-A and ended in Triple-A. The southpaw had a 2.93 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, .233 BAA, 25.6% K%, and a 5.9% BB% in 150.1 innings. Teammates love playing behind Borucki who has been touted as a fierce competitor on the mound that no matter what stuff he has any given day will compete and give his team a chance to win. This combination of skill, incredible performance, and mental toughness has put Borucki on the verge of breaking through to the Majors. We were fortunate enough to talk with Ryan about his breakout campaign, his mentality on the mound and much more!
Matthew de Marte: Teammates have labeled you a bulldog on the mound during your professional career. Can you describe what mindset you have every time you pitch and how it aids in your success?
RB: Ever since I was young I have been the most competitive person in the room. Video games, ping pong, whatever it was, it was always a competition for me. I have brought that into sports; I hate losing. It is a big thing for me. When I go out there, I am trying to do as much as I can to help the team win. Even if I am feeling crappy, I have to find a way to help them as much as I can and give them as much effort as I can. That drives me, my competitiveness, and why I just want to be the best out there, and I want my teammates wanting to play behind me. That is what drives me; the love to compete.
MD: You do a great job of avoiding walks and command the zone well. How does your mentality on the mound help you in attacking hitters and preventing free passes?
RB: The biggest thing for me is just attacking the zone with all my pitches. Since pro ball, I have not had too much trouble with control. I just go after the hitter, coming at him with my fastball, changeup, and now my slider. I am one of those guys where if you are going to hit the ball I am not going to play around in the zone. I don’t pick at the zone very often; I just go right at you. I see a spot, if I hit it, great, if I don’t it’s going to be in the zone. I like pitching to contact; I try and get off the mound as fast as possible. When you are walking guys, obviously, you don’t get off the mound as fast. I’m just one of those guys who let them hit the ball and let the defense do the work.
MD: In 2017 you did a spectacular job at avoiding giving up home runs, even as home run numbers have skyrocketed across professional baseball. Giving up just seven long balls in 150.1 innings pitched, what allowed you to avoid giving up home runs?
RB: Probably the biggest thing is keeping the ball down. I’m a fastball-changeup guy. Those pitches, if they are down in the zone where they need to be, I am going to have a lot of success. Last year I did have success not giving up as many homers. At the end of the year, I started to get a little more sink on my ball. The last couple of years I have not had as much sink, but at the end of the year, I was getting a lot of ground balls. That just meant I was down in the zone and it meant my ball was sinking a little bit because I was missing some barrels. For me, if I am up in the zone I get hit pretty hard. I had one outing in Double-A where I did leave the ball up and let up two homers. I knew I was up, and it was one of those days where you struggle to keep the ball down. As long as I keep the ball down with my fastball and changeup, I am usually pretty good at not giving up too many home runs. In 2016 I gave up 10 in a month, so that did not help very much, so I tried and kept myself from letting up any more after that crazy month. I just keep the ball down and working on those pitches is the key.
MD: You had a velocity spike at the beginning of the year. You decided to take a gear off your fastball that was 93-96 in the beginning to 90-93 and gear it up as needed. With the game shifting towards velocity why did you make this change?
RB: For me when I’m 93-96 I’m up a little bit; I lose a little bit of movement. That is my game. Once I figured that out and made the change of sitting 90-93 and focus on hitting my spots and staying within myself, I felt I was doing a lot better when I got to Double-A and Triple-A. I didn’t try and gear up at all to try and let one loose very infrequently. I was happy pitching at 90-93, and my results were excellent. I was getting a lot of ground balls and a lot of called strike threes because I was hitting my spots. For me, I am not one of those guys who is blessed and can throw 96, 98, or 100 on command. I throw with my pitches, I mix well, and that is the most significant thing for me. Once I made that decision to go to 90-93, my location was better, my movement was better, and my pitches were just more consistent in the zone, and that is where I saw my results.
MD: As a guy who throws a ton of off-speed pitches, how important is it for you to constantly mix it up to ensure batters have difficulty seeing patterns in your game and stay off balance?
RB: That’s a big thing for me. I mix a lot. I throw a fastball, change-up, and slider. I always have, even when I was in high school, pitched backwards. I didn’t see a velocity spike until I was a senior in high school. When I was pitching in my younger days, I was about 78-80 for a long time. I had to figure out how to pitch backwards with all my stuff. I had to learn how to throw 2-0 changeups, 3-1 sliders in the zone. As my velocity has gotten better, I compliment that. I am not afraid to mix 2-0 or 3-1 changeups or throw you five in a row. That is just something I have always done; good thing I have had the changeup for a good amount of my career and been able to trust it as much as I do which helps me a lot.
MD: 2017 was your breakout campaign as you finished the year in Triple-A. What do you think will be most important for you going forward to break through to the MLB and sustain a successful career there?
RB: Keep doing what I was doing in Double-A and Triple-A last year. I felt like I was pitching my best baseball. My location, my pitches, my mix, and I was seeing a lot of success. Hopefully, if I continue to do that, getting better and smarter as I see better hitters, I feel like I can progress and eventually make the MLB and stay there.
MD: What do you attribute your ability to be able to induce ground balls well above league average to?
RB: Like I said it is just keeping the ball down and having that late movement on my fastball. Last year I focused on trying to control the arm-side part of the plate. I just sit out there until the hitter adjusts. I keep pounding that outside corner and throw my change-up and slider over the plate. That was what got me a lot of ground balls. It is a hard pitch for a hitter to hit consistently because you have to be right on it or looking for it.
MD: I think what I found most impressive about your 2017 season was in 46.1 innings during your stop in Double-A, you allowed a minuscule 9.3%(!) line drive rate. To put that in perspective in the MLB among pitchers who threw at least 40 innings the best LD% was 10.4%. How were you missing so many barrels at Double-A, when most guys struggle initially making that jump?
RB: It started with my first outing. I had a catcher that I trusted who had been there for a little bit. He just kept calling outside corner, and I started hitting it. I did a really good job my first outing just staying on the outside, and they just kept hitting ground balls. I had a good outing and the confidence built. I focused on my bullpens just hitting the outside corner, and it became my bread and butter. Whenever I had to throw a strike, I would go to that spot. I got pretty good at it by the end of the year, and that is what kept my line drives down. It helped keep fly balls and everything like that down. I was just hitting that outside part of the plate and controlling it and making the hitter adjust. When they started making the adjustment, I would go back inside, and they struggled to make that adjustment because it is tough to control both sides of the plate as a hitter. Constantly making adjustments and working the outside part of the plate was the biggest thing for me in Double-A. I brought that to the last start in Triple-A.
MD: Being a part of a Blue Jays organization that has had recent success, but also has a ton of prospects that will be ready to help the Major League team in the next year or two including you. How exciting of a time is it to be a part of the organization, and what are your expectations for the organization going forward?
RB: It is a lot of fun. When we were at that camp (Blue Jays Fest), it was with a lot of guys who I have played with for a long time, three or four years now. It is fun being up there, seeing your buddies have success that you have been playing with for so long. It is a good group of guys we got, and hopefully, all of us will play a part with the big league team and make contributions to it. The front office is excited about player development and takes pride in that. As a player, I don’t know how you would not like that if your front office shows how much they care about you and they want you to succeed as much as you can. It is a little different atmosphere then it was when I first got drafted. Now that we have Shapiro and Ross in front it is a lot of fun. It is going to be a good couple of years seeing where this organization goes.
MD: How important is it for you knowing your teammates feel confident with you on the mound, knowing you will battle for them every pitch?
RB: It’s the thing that drives me the most. Like I said at the beginning of this, I want guys to want me to pitch. To be excited to play behind me. The best compliment I can get is not “hey man you did a good job today.” I love when teammates come up to me and say they love playing behind me and you make it fun for me. That is what really drives me the most. I want to be the guy my teammates trust in the biggest game of the year and want me on the mound all the time. I know I can only pitch every five days, but it is a lot of fun, and it gives me a lot of confidence when my teammates are behind me and ready to go. You can see they play hard for me and do everything they can to help me out as much as I am trying to help them out. It is essential to me.
MD: Pitching across three levels, what was the most significant difference you saw in hitters as you moved up each level? Did you feel like there was anything you could get away with at High- A that you could not at Double-A or Triple-A?
RB: For me, the biggest thing I noticed was in Double-A, and Triple-A hitters really have a plan. They know what they are looking for. At High-A there are a bunch of guys who are still trying to figure out their plans at the plate. When you make a mistake at High-A, they will make you pay. They swing at a lot of stuff. When you move up if the hitter is not looking for something he is not going to swing. He is looking for a pitch in one spot. If they get it, they are going to kill it. If you throw a different pitch, they are not looking for they are just going to take it. The best example I can give is one start while I was in Double-A I was sitting outside corner. It was 1-2 to a batter, and I was going inside, and I left it right down the middle, and the kid just took it. It was because I had his eyes so far outside that ball looked way inside to him; he just took it because he was not looking for it. In High-A if I do that, that is probably going to be a home run. The hitters in Double-A and Triple-A are just a lot smarter and know what they are looking for. If you throw the pitch, they are looking for they are going to make you pay for it big time.
MD: Did your preparation change at all across the different levels? Did you maybe study scouting reports or videos of hitters more as you moved up, or did your preparation in those terms stay consistent at each level?
RB: My preparation stayed pretty consistent. I am not a huge scouting report guy. The biggest things I want to know are whose hot. Who is a first-pitch swinger, who runs and who bunts? That is it; those are my biggest ones. I want to know who the runners are and who is coming in real hot because a guy might be hitting .300, but if he is 0 for his last 15, he is not going to be hitting like a .300 hitter. That helps with my confidence. The first pitch swingers are my biggest thing because I want to know who is going to ambush me and who I can lay a cookie in their first pitch and know they are going to take it. Those are my biggest things, I am not a huge scouting report or video guy, but I know as I move up, I was only in Triple-A for a little bit, or when I make that jump to the big leagues that that is important. I will probably study it more as I get up there, but last year my preparation was pretty consistent.