Auburn, Ala.—One of the top players in Alabama last season, big Rock Rucker is one of the newcomers that Coach John Pawlowski will be counting on this season to help the Auburn Tigers get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
At 6-4, 225, Rucker is a physical hitter that could help in the outfield for the Tigers this season, but as a pitcher he has the ability to become a key part of the pitching rotation as well. Preparing to open his first Auburn season this Friday against the Maine Black Bears, Rucker says it’s an exciting time for him and the 17 newcomers.
“Ever since I was a senior at Russell County I have been getting ready for this moment,” Rucker says. “I came here trying to get better and I would like to hit and pitch here. I have worked a lot on my pitching here because college hitters are a lot different. Hitting SEC pitching is very tough too. I have been working with Gabe Gross every day just to get better.”
Hitting the ground running in fall practice, Rucker made the most impact at the plate as he showed power and the ability to drive the ball to all fields. Even though he showed plenty of ability in scrimmage situations he says it was a learning experience as well facing college pitching for the first time.
“It humbled me,” Rucker says. “I faced Daniel Koger and Rocky McCord and those guys that were great as freshman and will be good for us this year. They have been velocity on their off-speed pitches and better location. They have a better pitching mindset and it has helped me understand better pitching as a hitter.”
Even though he was named Alabama’s 5A Hitter of the Year as a senior at Russell County, Rucker was known more for his pitching in high school as a player with a 90+ MPH fastball and a dominating presence on the mound. As a senior he was 7-0 with a 0.76 ERA for the Warriors, but this fall he lacked the consistency needed to succeed in college. Since that time he’s worked hard to make the corrections needed and he notes he’s getting closer to being the pitcher he wants to be.
“Coach Pawlowski helped me out a lot this past fall because I struggled a little bit,” Rucker says. “I was getting a little frustrated with myself, but I have been working on location and my composure. I’m trying to get more command with my off-speed pitches too.”
Battling with fellow freshman Sam Gilliken and junior college transfer Terrance Dedrick for playing time in right field and challenging Patrick Savage and Kody Ortman for time as the designated hitter, Rucker has remained busy this spring as he continues to try to find a role on the pitching staff as well. Now just days away from the season opener he says that he has learned plenty so far and is excited to get his career started.
“The biggest thing you learn when you get to this level is that everybody is almost the same athletically,” Rucker says. “It’s not like high school. Here people throw 94 just like I do and hit home runs just like I do. I learned that in the fall. That’s why I picked Auburn because it’s in a great conference and I have great people to compete with.”
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