By STEVE KRAH
“I’ve always liked numbers,” says Ruxer, a 2011 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.
Now that his business is baseball — he is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization — Ruxer is examining concepts like Spin Rate and Extension that are a part of TrackMan or Statcast technology.
According to MLB.com, a pitcher’s Spin Rate (SR) “represents the rate of spin on a baseball after it is released. It is measured in revolutions per minute. The amount of spin on a pitch changes its trajectory.”
For Extension (EXT), “a pitcher must begin his throwing motion while standing on the pitching rubber — which is 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate. This does not mean pitches are actually thrown from 60 feet, 6 inches away from the plate.
“The point at which a pitcher releases the ball is actually a few feet closer to home plate than the pitching rubber itself. Extension quantifies exactly how much closer a pitcher’s release point is to home plate.”
The higher EXT the better and the less time the hitter has to react to the pitch.
“I’ve been looking at the TrackMan data and getting an understanding of that and how to apply it,” says Ruxer, 25. “I’m getting more into the biomechanics of pitching. I’m also learning to manage the running game better and getting really good at PFP’s (Pitcher Fielding Practice) and things like that.”
Ruxer was chosen in the 29th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and did not sign, opting to go to Louisville. He pitched for the Cardinals 2012-14.
He was named Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association All-America, Big East Conference Rookie of the Year and third-team all-Big East while making 16 mound appearances (14 starts) and going 8-3 with a 3.38 earned run average, 32 strikeouts and 15 walks in 77 1/3 innings.
As a sophomore in 2013, he made 19 appearances (seven starts) with a 0-1 mark and a 5.63 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 21 walks in 38 1/3 innings. Louisville went 51-14 and played in the 2013 College World Series.
Ruxer’s junior campaign in 2014 saw him make 13 starts and go 7-1 with a 2.27 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings before an elbow injury ended his season. He named second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cardinals (51-15) returned to Omaha for the 2014 College World Series.
The righty made his first professional pitch until 2015 with the rookie-level Orem Owlz. That initial season back, he worked 29 2/3 innings over 14 appearances (11 starts) and was 0-3 with a 4.85 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 11 walks.
“That first short season was tough,” says Ruxer. “It definitely took awhile (to bounce back from surgery). I didn’t feel like I was a 100 percent and back to myself until 18 months later. I had to pitch through it.
“I had to learn how to pitch a little more because I didn’t have all my velocity back yet.”
Ruxer split the 2016 season between the Low Class-A Burlington Bees and High Class-A Inland Empire 66ers, combining for a 4-8 record, 3.08 ERA and 29 appearances (19 starts) with 99 strikeouts and 31 walks over 111 innings.
The first full pro season was also when he was introduced to the TrackMan data.
Knowing the Angels were using it as an evaluation tool, Ruxer began doing his homework and studied ways to improve his numbers and performance.
He found that change could be made through grip, arm action and some minor mechanical cues.
“Some days the ball has a little more carry. Some days it has a little more sink on it,” says Ruxer. “You make adjustments based on that.”
On Dec. 1, 2016, the Angels traded Ruxer to the Royals. He spent most of the 2017 season with the High Class-A Wilmington Rocks, going 5-7 with a 3.45 ERA in 24 appearances (17) starts with 84 strikeouts and 29 walks in 109 2/3 innings.
In three games (one start) and six innings with the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, he was 0-0 with a 16.50 ERA, one strikeout and seven walks.
Ruxer says the differences in the way he was handled by the two organizations is very slight.
“The Angels were very hands-off,” says Ruxer. “It was on me.
“The Royals were a little more proactive.”
While player development staff are there to help, Ruxer has learned that how players progress in pro baseball is largely up to them.
“It’s going on our stat sheet,” says Ruxer.
The Royals sent Ruxer to the 2017 Arizona Fall League to work on a breaking ball and he relieved in nine contests with the Surprise Saguaros. He went 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA. In 12 innings, he had 12 strikeouts and nine walks.
More than three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Ruxer is back to letting it rip on the mound.
“I’m pretty high-effort now,” says Ruxer. “I’m not holding anything back. I get a lot more results when I do that.
“There’s no reason to leave anything in the tank. There’s not too much thinking ahead. You’ve got to get the guy out standing in the box and the rest is secondary.”
Looking to his diamond past, Ruxer played in the Fall Creek Little League, where he was a teammate of current Texas Rangers minor league pitcher David Ledbetter.
“(McDonnell) taught me about managing the running game, PFP’s and was a stickler for bunt defense,” says Ruxer. “(Williams) called all the (pitches). I liked that. We could just go out there and pitch and just worry about our stuff. He did all his homework on the hitters. I trusted him. I didn’t shake off too much.”
While catchers in the minor leagues are allowed to develop their pitch-calling abilities, Ruxer notes that almost all pitches in major college baseball are called by coaches.
“Their job’s on the line. They want to control the game,” says Ruxer. “I get it. They have time to read up on the hitters. You are a student-athlete. There a lot of things going on. We can’t afford to lose games.”
Ruxer played three varsity seasons at Lawrence Central. He went 5-2 as a sophomore, 6-1 as a junior and 6-1 as a senior with a total of 155 strikeouts. His final high school season saw him earned all-state, all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference and all-Marion County honors.
Dan Roman (who is now head coach at Brownsburg High School) led the program when Ruxer was with the LC Bears.
“That was a blast,” says Ruxer. “Dan was awesome. “When it came to pitching, he showed me how to pitch to certain hitters and about reading the hitters’ swings. I learned how to attract hitters and started learning how to manage the running game.”
After an extended 2017 season, Ruxer managed to get away for some vacation and quality time with family — father Jim in a Certified Public Accountant, mother Lisa is a recently-retired as a physical education teacher at Carmel High School and younger sister Addie is life science recruiter in Chicago after graduating from Indiana University.
Ruxer will spend the rest of the off-season working out in Indianapolis. He has trained at both St. Vincent Sports Performance and the new Pro X Athlete Development. Former MLB pitcher Joe Thatcher is involved with Pro X.
Jared Ruxer, a Lawrence Central High School and University of Louisville graduate, is a right-handed pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization. (Wilmington Blue Rocks Photo)