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Ryan Tucker: A little preview for tomorrow . . . (I couldn't wait)

L.A. Times

MINOR LEAGUE SPOTLIGHT

Ryan Tucker is pitching right in at Carolina Southern California has produced more than its share of major league players. In this space, we'll take a look at how Southland players are faring in the minors. This week: the double-A Southern Leagu

By Bob Cuomo
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

May 9, 2008

Last season at Jupiter of the Class-A Florida State League, Ryan Tucker was a member of a rather unusual starting rotation -- all first and supplemental-round draft choices.

As compensation for the departure of type A free-agent pitchers Carl Pavano and Armando Benitez after the 2004 season, the Florida Marlins received four additional high picks in the 2005 draft besides their own at No. 16, giving them five of the first 44 selections. And they used them all on pitchers.

Tucker, a right-hander from Temple City High, was the 34th overall pick. The others were right-hander Chris Volstad (16th overall pick), left-hander Aaron Thompson (22nd), right-hander Jacob Marceaux (29th) and right-hander Sean West (44th). Right-hander Brent Sinkbeil, the 26th overall pick in 2006, rounded out the rotation. West was supposed to be with the Hammerheads but sat out the season after undergoing arm surgery.

This season, Tucker is part of the rotation at Carolina of the double-A Southern League. Joining him are Volstad, Thompson and Sinkbeil. Marceaux also is with the Mudcats, but he's now a reliever. Because West did not pitch in 2007, he was assigned to Jupiter.

According to Baseball America, Tucker is the Marlins' third-best prospect (Volstad is first, Sinkbeil second). His fastball, which has been clocked at 97 mph, is rated the best in the organization. As you might expect, he has an effective change-up and has also been working on a slider.

"His change-up really came along," Jim Fleming, the Marlins' vice president of player development, told USA Today Sports Weekly. "Once he gets a little more consistency with the slider, he should be able to go [move up] pretty fast."

Baseball America's projected 2011 lineup for the Marlins includes Tucker, but as the closer (Volstad and Sinkbeil are listed as the third and fourth starters).

Tucker beat Jacksonville, 11-1, Monday night to improve to 2-1. In seven innings -- his longest outing of the season -- he limited the Suns to three hits while striking out five and walking one.

In all, Tucker has made seven starts. His 0.89 earned-run average is the second-best in the league. In 40 1/3 innings, he has yielded 24 hits while striking out 39 (third-most in the league) and walking 16. Opponents are batting only .168 against him.

Tucker posted his first double-A victory on April 15 when the Mudcats beat Jacksonville, 2-1. He outpitched Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers' top prospect. He pitched six scoreless innings and held the Suns to three hits. Kershaw also went six innings, yielding four hits and one run.

In his next start, on April 20 against Tennessee at Zebulon, N.C., he went six innings and held the Smokies to three hits and one run while striking out a season-high nine, but left trailing, 1-0. The Mudcats scored four runs in the bottom of seventh and won, 4-1.

Tucker could very well be 5-1. In his first three starts after beating Jacksonville, he pitched well enough to win them all. In 17 1/3 innings, he gave up only seven hits and one run while striking out 22. His ERA during that span was 0.52.

Last year at Jupiter, Tucker made 24 starts and was 5-8 with a 3.71 ERA. In 138 1/3 innings, he gave up 142 hits while striking out 104 and walking 46. Opponents batted .268 against him.

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One of the catchers at Carolina is Brad Davis, the Marlins' fifth-round pick in 2004 from Long Beach State.

Davis, who shares time with Brett Hayes, has been the catcher in all of Tucker's starts. He is batting only .197 with two homers and five runs batted in.

He spent the most of last season at Carolina. In 45 games he batted. 287 with three homers and 20 RBIs. He was assigned to Jupiter on June 10 and batted .163 with three RBIs over 43 at-bats through June 29. He returned to Carolina on July 1.

Davis also played in one game for triple-A Albuquerque of the Pacific Coast League on May 9 and had one hit in two at-bats -- a run-scoring double.

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Jacksonville's James McDonald turned in his best performance of the season Tuesday night when the Suns beat Carolina, 2-0.

McDonald didn't get the win, but he pitched six scoreless innings and held the Mudcats to five hits while striking out nine and walking none. The Suns scored twice in the bottom of the eighth to hand Volstad his first loss of the season.

McDonald, the Dodgers' 11th-round pick in 2002 from Golden West College in Costa Mesa, is 1-1 with a 4.19 ERA. In 34 1/3 innings, he has yielded 34 hits while striking out 35 and walking seven. Opponents are batting .260 against him.

The 6-foot-5, 195-pound right-hander started the 2007 season at Inland Empire of the Class-A California League. While there, he was 6-7 with a 3.95 ERA in 15 starts. In 82 innings, he struck out 104 and walked only 21.

That earned him a promotion to Jacksonville, where he made 10 starts and was 7-2 with a 1.71 ERA. He struck out 64 and walked 16 in 53 innings.