Feb. 24, 2016

Walk into the Woody Hayes Athletic Center during the morning hours of the winter months, chances are you would of ran into a former Buckeye. Drew Rucinski and John Kuchno were two of several professional players that returned to campus during the offseason to prepare for their upcoming spring training camps. With pitchers and catchers reporting this week, we recently sat down with the two pro Buckeyes and they shared their thoughts on returning back to their alma mater to train. 

One of the great recent success stories for Ohio State baseball has been Drew Rucinski. After making his MLB debut for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2014, Rucinski has moved over to the Chicago Cubs organization and is ready to have a strong spring training with a ball club that advanced to the NLCS last year.

Q: What makes you keep coming back to Ohio State for your winter offseason program?

DR: It’s the perfect place. The coaches are very willing to let us use the facilities. The indoor field is great to stretch out the arm. I love coming back to the weight room at Bill Davis Stadium where this all began for me. You get to work out with your old teammates and it has become a tradition for several of us now.

Q: What’s a regular day like for you?

DR: We usually get in by 9 a.m. and start stretching and throwing. If it’s a bullpen day, we will head over to the cages with some catchers. Usually a lift and run follows that. It’s about a three-hour workout in the morning.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge when transitioning back and forth from triple-A to the big leagues?

DR: Trying to find your comfort zone can be a challenge. You are expected to throw in any situation in the big leagues. In the minors, I’m used to starting and throwing every five days but that’s not the case when you get called up. One time, I didn’t throw for a week but that’s just part of the process. They are trying to win games and you need to be ready. That was a new experience for me and I think it helped me grow as a professional. Any day in the majors is a good day.

Q: What was your reaction when you got the call you’ve been signed by the Cubs?

DR: I knew I was going to be a free agent, but I didn’t think it would happen that quickly. It still really hasn’t hit me I’m going to the camp with the Cubs yet. It’s exciting to be a part of team that had a big year in 2015. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

Q: What else do you do during the offseason?

DR: I love to hunt and fish during the offseason. I’m rebuilding a 14-foot aluminum boat at the moment. We did a lot of fly fishing when I played out in Utah during the off days. It’s a great way to step away from everything and just refresh.

Q: What’s your impression on the 2016 Buckeyes?

DR: Every winter when I come back I see more and more guys using their free time to improve their game. They are putting in the extra effort. I’ll talk with the pitchers and give them some advice on a pitch or situation and compare notes. I hope seeing the older guys come back to work out helps motivate them to continue to work hard.

Drew Rucinski, 2011 

Last year, John Kuchno had a strong campaign for the Altoona Curve, the double-A affiliate for the Pittsburgh Pirates, posting a posted a 3.46 ERA in 67.2 innings of work in his third full season of pro ball. Kuchno, a two-year letterwinner from 2011-12, is pleased with his development, but is eager to see what is next in 2016.

Q: Being back on campus, have you taken time to reflect on your progress in the minors?
JK: I’m definitely happy with the progress I’ve made, but I still think I have a lot of room to improve. Last year was my first year in double-A and I was a part of a good team. I’m looking forward to see what happens this year. I’ve been working hard to make sure I’m ready to report next month.

Q: What was the biggest step you took in 2015?
JK: Last year was the first time I was used as a relief pitcher. I was a starter my entire career, including at Ohio State. I got to learn the new position and also start a few times too. It was great. I gained experience that I think makes me valuable now since I have experience in different situations. 

Q: What’s the process like for a pitcher during the offseason?
JK: Dean [Hansen] is the best. He puts together a workout plan that starts with two weeks of mobility and then you start lifting pretty heavily until mid-December. After that, you start to back off on the lifting and focus more on the throwing. The training environment with Dean and Brad [Goldberg] is really unbeatable. Coming to Ohio State really allows me to take full advantage of my opportunity.

Every year, I’ve felt really ready to go by the time I head down to Florida.

Q: Like all sports, pitching requires different work outs. What are the major areas Dean has put into your workouts?
JK: It’s complex. He tailored the conditioning and lifts to optimize explosion. Box jumps, resistance jumping, and squad but also corrective movement with your hips and hip mobility. He does a great job and we have the workout plan down pretty good now.

Q: Your former teammate Drew Rucinski made his MLB debut two years ago and spent time up with the Angels last season. Does his story motivate you?

JK: Not a lot of guys work harder than Drew. To see him make it to the big leagues with the Angels was just an incredible story. He deserved it because he worked his butt off. It does provide motivation. When I go into the Woody to throw and see Drew, it’s time to work. He does a great job of coaching us up. His experience is very valuable.

John Kuchno, 2012