MESA – New Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Borucki is not necessarily the new kid in town.
Borucki grew up in Mundelein, Illinois as a Chicago White Sox fan and played high school baseball at Mundelein High School. Now, the 28-year southpaw is playing on Chicago’s North Side after signing a minor league deal on Jan. 4.
Though familiar, it’s a nice change of scenery after he spent 11 injury-ridden seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays organization before being traded to the Seattle Mariners last June. He pitched 19 innings, then joined the injured list in August for the remainder of the season with a left forearm strain.
“It was one of those things where I was there for so long that it was time for both parties to break up,” Borucki said about leaving the Blue Jays. “I didn’t really know what to expect (with Seattle). That team in Seattle was one of my favorite teams I’ve ever played with.
“I was very lucky to spend my time there and bounce the Blue Jays out of the playoffs … that felt very good too.”
Despite his low velocity after recovering from a partially torn ACL in high school, the Blue Jays drafted Borucki right out of high school in the 15th round of the 2012 MLB June Amatuer Draft. Originally committed to the University of Iowa, Borucki opted to go pro after receiving advice from a coach at Iowa.
“I remember calling the Iowa coach and he said, ‘If you’re getting life-changing money then go and do it,’” Borucki said. “To me, what my bonus was was life changing at the time, so it was a hard decision but an easy one.
“I felt that college was always going to be there and this opportunity’s not always going to be there.”
Borucki made his major league debut in 2018 and finished the season pitching 97.2 innings while recording a 3.87 ERA. Injuries, however, have limited him to 72.1 innings and a 5.23 ERA in four seasons since his rookie campaign.
Throughout his time in the minors, Borucki also missed significant time, namely in 2013, when he underwent Tommy John surgery, and in 2015, when bone spurs in his elbow limited him to three appearances.
Borucki understands that a pitcher’s arm must be treated with care, and with his inability to stay on the field for a significant portion of his career, Borucki has adopted a mindset to overcome that adversity.
“For me, I’ve always been a hard worker and I always enjoyed the process of getting ready for a season,” Borucki said. “When I got Tommy John (surgery), I was like this is a perfect opportunity to get better and finally have a healthy arm. I’ve pitched through a lot of things, you get so used to pitching with pain and coping with the pain.
“It gets easier going through the process, the more you do it. You find what things work for you and what don’t … seems like it gets easier and easier, and I’m more prepared for it.”
Borucki spent six seasons in the minor leagues prior to his major league debut in 2018, and just like many minor leaguers, Borucki needed to find work during the offseasons to support himself.
In 2017, Borucki returned to Mundelein High School to coach his alma mater’s freshman B-team basketball squad to earn some extra cash.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve had that coaching mentality of leadership qualities to be a coach,” Borucki said. “It was one of my favorite offseasons for sure, it was very cool for me to see the kids we had at the freshman level, three years later starting on the varsity team. I hope I taught some of those kids a couple of life lessons along the way.”
While he may have been a good coach, it was Borucki’s “grind” and hustle that caught the attention of his players and inspired them to follow their dreams through hard work.
“Having a professional athlete (as a coach) in no matter what sport, they carry themselves differently and they have a different way of putting in work and workouts and bringing in energy to a team that most people can’t,” said Kyle Schaller, a player on Borucki’s freshman basketball team. “To see him still on the come up to make it to the big leagues and to have him still on that grind type of mindset, it helped us out to push through the season and give it our best.”
Fast forward to today, those kids are now in college and Borucki is hoping to earn a spot in Chicago’s bullpen.
Borucki acknowledges being more of a “fly on the wall” in the clubhouse during spring training. Anthony Kay, a teammate of his in Toronto who also came to the Cubs, has noticed Borucki’s hard work and how he has adjusted to the new staff.
“He’s really good at getting guys out and dominating lefties with that slider,” Kay said. “Everyone’s welcoming and the staff is really good at helping get the best out everyone. It’s good to have a staff like that that’s open to what you have to say.”
Cubs fans have every reason to be excited about the upcoming season with the additions of Dansby Swanson, pitcher Jameson Taillon, and outfielders Cody Bellinger and Trey Mancini.
Fangraphs predicts the Cubs to finish third in the NL Central with 76 wins, but if the team stays healthy and the Milwaukee Brewers or St. Louis Cardinals underperform, a wild card appearance isn’t out of the picture.
For Borucki, his story is one of perseverance and determination. With the season ramping up, Borucki will begin it in Triple-A Iowa. However, with a thin supply of southpaws in the organization, Borucki is likely to crack the big league roster at some point during the season.
No matter the outcome, Borucki doesn’t want to just impress the coaches, he wants to learn from them and become the best pitcher he can be.
“I’ve always been kind of a lefty specialist, just continuing to get the lefties out and minimizing damage from righties,” Borucki said. “This was a good opportunity for me, there’s not many lefties on the (Cubs) roster. For me I really wanted to be coached, I haven’t reached my full potential yet.
“Whatever happens, happens. I just have to keep throwing the ball well and stay healthy.”