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Nick Struck — A to AAA in one season

Nick Struck is having the time of his life playing Minor League baseball


EDITOR’S NOTE: Nick Struck, who helped lead Clackamas High School to its first state championship in baseball in 2008, is having plenty of success as he attempts to earn his living in professional baseball.

Struck last fall was honored as the Chicago Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Struck went 14-10 with a 3.18 ERA (55 ER/155.2 IP) in 28 games (26 starts) for Tennessee last season. He led the Southern League in victories, ranked third with 155.2 innings pitched and fourth in ERA. He led the club with 123 strikeouts, walked just 44, and limited opposing hitters to a .238 batting average (140-for-588).

From May 29 through the end of the season, Struck went 10-5 with a 2.29 ERA (26 ER/102.0 IP) in 18 games (16 starts). All told, Struck allowed three or fewer earned runs in 20 of his 26 starts, while he issued two or fewer walks in 21 starts.

Struck was named the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month for June, going 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA (8 ER/29.1 IP) in five starts, and finished the campaign by going 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA (6 ER/36.2 IP) in six August contests (four starts). The 1.47 August ERA led all Southern League pitchers while his .202 batting average against ranked seventh.

Chicago’s 39th round selection in the 2009 Draft, Struck is 32-27 with a 3.50 ERA (168 ER/431.2 IP) and two complete-game shutouts in 84 career minor league games, including 73 starts. He has struck out 330 batters while walking 134, and has surrendered just 28 home runs in 431.2 innings pitched.

Robert Martinez caught up with Struck and some of his associates late last year and submitted the following article:

by: ADAM KLINE / TENNESSEE SMOKIES - Former Clackamas High School star Nick Struck was honored as the Chicago Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2012.

Due to his particular story, people immediately want to characterize Clackamas High School graduate Nick Struck as having a “chip on his shoulder.”

Initially that may have been true, and it was possibly fueled by Struck himself. However, anyone who has ever met the 23-year-old knows that he is enjoying the particular path he is taking in his pursuit of a career as a pitcher in professional baseball.

After a terrific prep career that earned him Player of the Year honors and Clackamas the Oregon Class 6A high school baseball title 2008, he turned down offers to play at the University of Portland or walk-on at the University of Oregon. Not receiving any interest from Oregon State University, he headed to Mt. Hood Community College.

When asked about his game plan for Mt. Hood, Struck says, “It wasn’t necessarily my plan to go pro after only one year there. I felt overlooked when I was coming out of high school, so I wanted to go there for a year or two and see if I could get a scholarship to a Division 1 school, or something like that.”

After going 10-0 at Mt. Hood, with a 1.18 ERA, 62 strikeouts, 14 walks, four complete games and two shutouts in 11 starts covering 61 innings, Struck was offered a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. He declined and was instead selected by and signed by the Chicago Cubs in the 39th round of the 2009 draft.

Of the year spent at Mt. Hood, Struck says, “It was a lot of fun. We had a lot of guys that were good that went on to play at Division 1 schools and a couple of the guys that played in that league got drafted.”

When asked what he learned about himself at Mt. Hood, he replied, “It was the same stuff that I learned my senior year in high school — I am not the tallest of pitchers and I don’t throw 98. I learned the difference between those guys and me is that I am able to throw all three of my pitches for strikes, to use location and not try and overpower guys.”

Struck’s first year as a professional (2010) was spent between Peoria of the Midwest League and Daytona of the Hi-A Florida State League. He was a combined 9-10, with a 3.43 ERA in 28 appearances, including 25 starts. He had 96 strikeouts and 46 walks in 128.2 innings.

He began the following year at Daytona and was promoted first to AA Tennessee of the Southern League and then to AAA Iowa of the Pacific Coast League. He was a combined 9-7, with a 3.97 ERA, 111 strikeouts and 44 walks in 147.1 innings.

In 2012 Struck pitched the entire season at Tennessee, where he was among the league leaders in several categories — a 14-10 record (14 wins, first), 3.18 ERA (fourth), 125 strikeouts (fifth), 44 walks in 28 appearances, of which 26 were starts, in 155.2 innings (third). All of this earned him the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Cubs Farm Director Brandon Hyde says, “Nick had a very consistent five months, which is why he won the award. He pitched very well this year.”

After playing in the Mt. Hood alumni game, he headed to Arizona — along with six other Cub prospects and top young talent from the Orioles, Dodgers, Tigers and Astros — to play for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League.

Hyde said, “Again we are looking for him to get some work in against the better young players in the game from the higher levels. He will pitch out of the pen in the AFL, so he can get some experience there, but this is not a first step out of the rotation.”

In the six-week fall season, Struck was 1-0, with a 5.11 ERA, 11 strikeouts, 12 walks in 12 appearances — 16 1/3 innings of relief work. However, in the four outings in which he pitched two innings he only allowed one earned run and struck out six, while walking only two batters.

Nick earned the respect and confidence of his Mesa Solar Sox teammates and coaches. Brian Harper, Mesa hitting coach and Struck’s manager at Tennessee in 2011 said, “Nick is a competitor. I love him. He is a ballplayer and you don’t say that too often about pitchers. He just loves to play baseball — coaching first base, taking grounders, hitting fungoes. Whatever.”

Struck’s love for the game is evident and it rubs off on those around him. Mesa manager Rodney Linares (Astros) said, “He has looked good. He is a competitor. I’ve liked what I have seen. He always wants the ball.... Being around Nick brings a smile to your face.”

Solar Sox pitching coach Matt Herges (Dodgers) said: “What I love about Nick is he has something you can’t teach. What I mean is that he has a competitive beast inside of him. He is just relentless with throwing the ball where he wants to, and repeating it.

“You’d never know if he has a bad outing if you watched him because he has a great mound presence. He just drips confidence. He has what it takes for me — the heart of a lion.”

Not only does Struck have confidence in his abilities. He has earned the trust and confidence of his Mesa catchers. James McCann (Tigers) said, “Nick is a very good pitcher and has good stuff. He’s got all that it takes. But the thing that sticks out is that he knows how to pitch.

“There are lots of guys here with lots of talent. But there is a difference between just throwing and pitching. And he knows how to pitch. He can throw all his pitches for strikes in different counts.”

Gorman Erickson (Dodgers), another Mesa catcher, said, “Nick is a big control guy with great stuff. He hides the ball really well and comes out with a lot of life. It surprises a lot of hitters. Combine that with his location, and he is a valuable asset on this team.”

When asked to sum up his career to date, Struck says, “It has gone really well. From the first year, not knowing what to expect and with a few ups and downs, I have had some struggles here and there. Then I went from High-A to AAA in one season.

“It has been a great experience here.... I hope that it will all continue. You can always be content doing what you have done. But that is not how it is going to work for me. I am not content yet. There is another step to go.”

You might catch Nick and his buddies at Little Cooperstown or McCool’s, when he is not working at the Jaha Baseball Academy, or savoring his mom’s tater tot casserole, which he missed on his birthday last year.