Glendale, Arizona —— For Milwaukee Brewers right-handed pitcher Austin Rubick, two months of development in the professional ranks have produced a remarkable change in the Ventura College product—and at this rate, with another few seasons of growth through the system, he could become a serious power pitching prospect. I know the California native pretty well, as far as baseball goes, having seen him in multiple outings back at Ventura earlier this spring. Even then, his raw talent was apparent, though he’d sit at 88 mph nearly as often as he did at 94 mph and his fastball command was inconsistent enough that it became his biggest bugaboo during this junior college season. But now, after six weeks of professional play in the Arizona League culminating in his most recent start on Thursday night, Rubick looks completely different with far more refined, hard stuff. That’s a testament to the Milwaukee Brewers, to his own work ethic, and to the patience of trusting time as the biggest key in development.
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The most outwardly visible improvement thus far in Austin Rubick has been velocity. Already gone are the days of throwing 94 mph one outing and 88 mph the next. On Thursday night, Rubick sat 91-94 mph with his fastball (both four-seam and two-seam, the latter of which doesn’t lose life down in the zone even when thrown hard), and per a source he’s been above 90 mph all summer in the AZL. That’s a sure sign the Milwaukee Brewers are already refining and ironing out his mechanical issues: keeping him on line and on a downward plane far more consistently to take advantage of his natural strength and leverage. His off-speed stuff is all harder than it was in March and April, too; on Thursday, Rubick sat 84-85 mph with his changeup (up from 80-81 mph in spring and with a lot of added life), and 76-77 mph with his curveball (he was as low as 71 mph with a far loopier version in the spring season). Velocity isn’t everything, of course, but in Rubick’s case it’s critical because throwing harder has markedly improved the life on his pitches—especially his breaking balls—when down in the zone.
To boot, Rubick has added a slider to his repertoire, and that’s a notable development in and of itself. The pitch sits 82-83 mph and stays distinctly different from his curveball. The Brewers are reportedly very happy with the spin rate on his slider, and they believe he has a chance to make it a plus pitch in the future. He’ll need to improve consistency of command with the slider (and with the curve), but two distinct breaking balls and the ability to use each early and late in counts gives Rubick abundant tools with which to play, the sum of which should keep him starting games for the foreseeable future.
I said a few months ago upon my college evaluation of Austin Rubick that the righty had all the raw talent in the world, and only needed innings (a lot of innings) to actualize it. That’s happening already; even on Thursday, as refined as he looked with a vastly improved power profile, there are still abundant kinks to be worked out that will only come with experience. Chief among them is fastball command. Rubick’s control is fine, he clearly trusts his fastball and likes to throw it, and it’s commendable that he’s plainly unafraid to challenge any hitter in any count. But some of the command nuances he’ll need in the coming years haven’t yet shown up, and that should be his big focus the rest of the way this summer and into instructional league this fall.
Here’s a good example of why fastball command matters: on the fourth pitch of his Thursday night outing, in a 1-2 count to Laz Rivera, the White Sox leadoff hitter, Rubick threw a curveball. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but as a starter in the pro ranks he’ll soon learn the importance of keeping his off-speed stuff close to the vest for as long as possible. To that end, vastly improved fastball command will allow him to trust the heater (which is a very good pitch!) rather than having to go to an off-speed look early, and a well-placed fastball on a 1-2 count to the game’s leadoff hitter should get the job done. Rubick’s fastball is good enough that there’s no question he can get through the first turn of a lineup showing only it and perhaps his changeup (especially at this level of play). Then, he can turn around and show the slider in the second time through the lineup, and the curve over the third turn (or vice versa). When he improves his fastball command like he needs, that’ll become a reality for him, and the righty won’t need to show his curve early to the leadoff hitter where hitters two, three, four, and five can get a sense of its trajectory before they’ve even taken their first at-bat.
That’s a very minor point, of course, and perhaps the AZL Brewers had a hitter-specific scouting report on Rivera that called for a curve in the first place, but I think that’s one (very specific) example of how Rubick will benefit from improved fastball command over the next few seasons. Beyond that, he falls into the same trap many big, tall righties do: long arm action and rushing to the plate combine to leave pitches high and arm-side, particularly against left-handed hitters, and Rubick tends to fly open early and waste too many non-competitive fastballs outside the zone to his arm side. The correction there is mechanical, and it will simply come in time—more innings, more repetitions, more work to smooth out his mechanics—but it’s another place in which his fastball must improve in the coming years. Please don’t get me wrong, though; when that pitch is on and down in the zone, it’s deadly, and Rubick throws a free, easy 94 mph that suggests more velocity is soon coming. Just imagine that velo with a pinpoint ability to spot black-to-black at the knees.
I don’t want you to think this is just a list of (very small) criticisms of Austin Rubick, though. This kid looked filthy at times on Thursday night, and his velocity gains and quick addition of the slider bode very well for the Milwaukee Brewers going forward. He’s going to need more and more innings in the coming years, but I think his mindset and baseball IQ are particularly well-suited for this process, and for professional baseball in general. Realistically, I’d expect him to be farmed out to the Pioneer League next summer, and then Low-A Wisconsin in 2019. He just turned 20 on Friday, so he’s right on track for those assignments. By the time he hits full-season ball, at the rate I’ve seen him pick up baseball knowledge, and with the impressive natural physical tools he possesses, I think it’s highly likely Austin Rubick could be a monster on the mound sitting 94-96 mph with a true power curve and a very, very hard slider. Maybe that’s a best-case scenario (it’d certainly land him on a prospect list in a few years’ time), but with the way I’ve seen him attack hitters and develop over a long course of time in college and now the pro ranks, I’m bullish on him hitting—or exceeding—projections. There’s a ton of natural talent there with which to work, and Rubick is the type of guy open to being coached and developed with little by way of ego and selfishness.
On a site note here, it looks like we’re going to be able to land a video interview with Austin Rubick and our on-air host, Sande Charles, on Monday night in Maryvale before the AZL Brewers’ game against the AZL Dodgers. Rubick is a nice, funny guy who makes for a good interview, so that should be fun—and we’ll obviously put that on the site immediately once we’re able to confirm and film it. Beyond that, Milwaukee Brewers fans would do well to continue to watch Austin Rubick develop; he’s on the outside looking in as far as big money prospects are concerned, but as he continues to refine his raw stuff, he’s going to open a lot of eyes both in the organization and outside. A very, very hard worker and a motivated self-starter, he’s particularly well-suited for the pro ball lifestyle, too, and he should start to thrive in the organization over the next few years. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.