Ventura, California —— When most people fail, they’d rather not acknowledge it.
Austin Rubick isn’t like most people.
Maybe the most-hyped pitcher to come out of Ventura County since Phil Bickford, Rubick made his way to the University of Arizona in 2016, a prized recruit ready to pitch immediately for Jay Johnson’s Wildcat team that ended up the runners-up at the College World Series in Omaha. A big arm, a hard fastball, and enough raw stuff to have attracted the interest of the Cleveland Indians—who drafted him in the 27th round out of Buena High School in 2015—Rubick was a coach’s dream on the mound, a can’t-miss soon-to-be star prospect.
Things didn’t quite work out that way.
Ten innings pitched later, sparingly used over just 11 relief appearances during a long, grueling year with the Wildcats, Rubick’s career at the University of Arizona was finished with just an 0-1 record and an 8.10 ERA the only takeaways from a year lost to the far end of the bench. Austin Rubick went out into the world with big expectations, and the world bit back. Hard.
“Me and coach Johnson, we had a conversation the day after we lost [at Omaha], and we were back in Tucson,” Rubick remembered during a conversation with Baseball Census. “And he goes, ‘well, you can stay, or you can go somewhere else. And buddy, I know that you love it here, but I think it’d be better if you went and played somewhere else.’”
It might have been an awkward start to our conversation, but Rubick leaned into it, opening up and acknowledging that big-time baseball at Arizona just didn’t work out.
“As soon as he told me that I probably should go and play somewhere else, it hit me really quickly,” he continued. “Since I was born, I wanted to play Division I baseball. I feel like I was born to go win that World Series, to go win in Omaha, and as soon as it was taken from me, I grew the fuck up really fast.”
“As soon as that happened, I came here.”
‘Here’ is Ventura College, the JuCo program not far from Rubick’s childhood home and old high school haunts. ‘Here’ is also a tough place to return in this context. Rubick was the golden boy recruit who couldn’t miss, now returning back home with his tail between his legs after, well, he missed.
For most people that’s humbling, and angering, and embarrassing.
Austin Rubick isn’t like most people.
“I know some guys look at it like, ‘oh now I’m going to try to get revenge, I’m going to try to get them back,’ but I just don’t look at it with a negative attitude,” Rubick said. “I never really looked at it as a bad experience. I’ve seen those coaches around when they’ve been out recruiting. I gave Jay Johnson a hug a couple months’ back. And in 78 games with that guy, I learned so much. I couldn’t have traded anything in the world for what he taught, and how he taught things.”
Maybe Austin Rubick knows he needs to say all the right things about his time at the University of Arizona. Maybe he comes by this magnanimity honestly. Maybe it’s a combination of both. But whatever the case, there’s a special kind of maturity you grow into when you return home after a failure out in the big bad world—a humbling, eye-opening perspective inevitably grows as you lick your wounds and wait for your turn to try it all again.
“In all reality, some schools fit, and some schools don’t,” Rubick admitted, shrugging. “It was right for me to come back to Ventura, it was right for me to get back to doing what I was doing before Arizona. Ventura is this calm place, nothing happens in Ventura. But as soon as I get there, I’m a 17-year-old kid in a big party school. There were a lot of negative surroundings. I don’t think I was mature enough for that. And I think Jay Johnson realized I wasn’t as mature as I should have been.”
“I wasn’t very academically strong in any sense, and I had been planning on going in the draft out of high school,” Rubick continued, admitting he thought a long time about the Indians’ choice to draft him out of Buena High School. “I love the idea of playing pro ball. I wanted to do it yesterday. But Jay Johnson came to my house [during the draft] and told me, you know what, we are trying to go win a World Series, and you can help us do that. And I bought in. School was not my favorite thing, but I loved what he said, and I loved how he spoke.”
Ventura College’s top assistant, Steven Hardesty, has known Austin Rubick since the big, strong right-handed pitcher’s high school days as a gangly, goofy freshman six years ago.
“The first time I met Austin, his high school coach had sent him on a punishment run up to [Ventura College],” Hardesty remembered. “So he introduces himself, and then I have to call his high school coach and say, ‘hey, coach, I’ve got your kid here.’ At that point, he was a 6’4”, 180-lb. freshman in high school with size 15 feet. He looked like a St. Bernard running up the hill.”
Rubick developed very quickly over his four years of high school, attracting an incredible amount of attention from college recruiters and pro scouts before committing to Arizona and then going through that fateful MLB Draft day where he nearly became a member of the Cleveland Indians as a teenager.
“The day of the draft comes, and as he’s sitting in his house getting drafted, his college coach is in his ear saying ‘I want you, don’t sign, don’t go in the draft,’” Hardesty recalled. “Can you imagine that? I think some of that went to his head. There was that level of, ‘oh, I know I’m better than everybody here,’ and there wasn’t a drive to continue getting better. And then he gets to Arizona and it was a real wake-up call. It was like, ‘wait, everybody here is as good as me, or better.’ That’s a big realization to say, ‘OK, I’m good, but there are guys better than me, so what am I going to do to get better?’”
Spend a little time with Austin Rubick and you find Hardesty’s St. Bernard metaphor isn’t far off, and not just because of the pitcher’s over-sized feet and workhorse frame. Rubick is an incredibly, almost refreshingly simple kid; baseball is fun, and he’s good at it, so he wants to play baseball. That’s hurt him in the past—as he admits, he’s not a big fan of school—but it’s also helped him with this eternally optimistic, happy-go-lucky outlook no matter the adversity.
To that end, maybe a normal person wouldn’t have returned home to Ventura College after such a spectacular failure out in the world. Go to another junior college in another city, lay low, let your wounded pride recover in anonymity, and take another shot a year or two from now.
But remember—Austin Rubick isn’t like most people.
“When Jay Johnson cut me I grew up, and at that moment, I realized I didn’t just need to become a better baseball player, I needed to get something more out of this,” Rubick admitted. “I needed to be a better person. And since I’ve been back here, I’ve been getting after it in the classroom. I’ve been working to better my relationships with my family and friends. I don’t look at those party school temptations now. Every day, I try to take that attitude of, ‘how can I get better every day?’ And that mirrors in this game. The game is a game of failure. You’re great if you go 3-for-10. So how do you cope with failure? How do you learn?”
“And you know, I got a 2.0 GPA last year at Arizona, but I got a 3.8 last semester here, and I have a 4.0 right now,” Rubick continued, mentioning his grades before he ever spoke about stats or velocity—a small thing, sure, but one that didn’t go unnoticed. “My grades have gone up. My relationship with my family has gone up. I needed to grow up, and Jay Johnson helped me with that. He taught me so much about the game, whether I was playing or not. Why shouldn’t I take something positive from that?”
There’s a lot left for Austin Rubick to learn.
He struck out 59 batters in 57 innings pitched over 12 starts this year, but he also walked 45 more and allowed 54 hits. He was dominant at home—going 2-1 in four starts with a 3.09 ERA and 34 strikeouts in just 23.1 innings—but largely struggled on the road, to the tune of an 8.55 ERA and 31 walks against 25 strikeouts in 33.2 innings pitched. All that stuff should be ironed out as Austin Rubick’s career continues beyond Ventura College, but as he goes about it, there’s one thing certainly not in doubt: the raw talent is there in spades for the pitcher who just needs to throw more innings to figure it all out at the collegiate level.
“He’s realized the weight room is not where he’s going to get better as a pitcher,” Hardesty said. “Where he’s going to get better is actually getting on the mound and figuring out how to execute every one of his pitches. He’s a fun kid to sit and talk pitching with because he has a very developed understanding of it, and he’s going to get with coaches down the line that can keep refining that. The thought process is there, but he’s just not as refined in what he wants to do. Now, the execution has to catch up.”
There’s a sense that Austin Rubick has always just been looking for the right place to fit. The MLB Draft didn’t quite work out, nor did Arizona. He had to come back home to Ventura College and start over again—he found a fit here, to be sure—but it’s a fleeting moment, just one season before he’s back out into the real world. Enter: the University of Hawaii, Austin Rubick’s commitment for the next two years.
“We played there last year with Arizona, and it was 3,500 fans who knew every single name of the Hawaii players, it was unreal,” Rubick said. “Everyone felt connected. It felt like a home, and I told my buddy when we got back to the hotel that night, like, ‘hey dude, it’d be cool to play here.’ Then as soon as I showed up to Ventura College, I went up to [pitching coach] Jimmy Walker and said ‘hey Jimmy, I’m going to Hawaii, get that coach calling me.’ Sure enough, the coach came out here one day and a week later they flew me out.”
“It’s a family out there,” Rubick continued about Hawaii, beaming ear to ear about the program. “People get the kids together and they don’t go to Dodger Stadium, they go to Hawaii baseball. I did the autograph thing during regionals, and super regionals, and Omaha, but these kids at Hawaii, man, it was different. It’s a legit family. Everybody was happy.”
Maybe Rubick will share in some of that happiness at the University of Hawaii. There’s little question he found some by returning home to Ventura College and his new teammates here. Considering his lack of embarrassment and endearing ability to own up to a lost year at Arizona, perhaps Rubick just has it within him. One thing is for sure: if Austin Rubick’s name is called in the MLB Draft this June, he won’t be the same guy talked back from the draft by the University of Arizona two years ago. And if he skips the MLB Draft and heads for the University of Hawaii, he’ll be a far different man than the kid who went to Arizona not long ago.
“There’s been such a growth in him,” Hardesty acknowledged. “I tell scouts all the time, I wouldn’t call him a mature adult yet, but he’s not the little kid that he was when he left high school. There are still a lot of edges to polish, but he’s not the kid who coming out of high school thought that he was God’s gift to baseball. I’ve gotten to watch him mature from that 6’4” St. Bernard to a player that has been truly humbled, and now he has something that’s pushing him to take the next step in his baseball career.”
“I’m in better shape now in the Ventura College weight room, with no trainer, than I was at a Division I school,” Rubick offered, summing up the circular path that brought him back home only to see him grow up in the process. “I’m motivated here. I want to get better, and I’m not just doing it for myself, or for this program, I’m doing it for my family. It’s really cool to sacrifice for that. Like, I’m eating healthy. I love cheeseburgers, but I’m not eating them. I’m getting stronger than ever, and I’m getting the best grades I’ve ever had.”
Rubick paused, and smiled again.
“Everything is going really well for me,” the Ventura College pitcher finished. “I can’t wait for what happens next.”
That’s all well and good, and the redemption story coupled with a 90-something mile an hour fastball will all but tell itself here in another year or two, but wait a minute—a big, young athlete who doesn’t eat cheeseburgers?
Yep. Austin Rubick sure isn’t like most people.
To read our scouting report of Ventura College RHP / MLB Draft candidate Austin Rubick, please click here.
In this Ventura College / MLB Draft / Austin Rubick baseball scouting report:
Ventura College | Pasadena City College | Cuesta College | Austin Rubick
Follow Baseball Census on social media:
Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | Google+ | SoundCloud | Tumblr | Reddit | Giphy
Milwaukee Brewers draft pitcher Austin Rubick — here's what to expect
June 14, 2017 at 11:57 am
[…] school and a Ventura native, Rubick spent his freshman year at the University of Arizona before transferring home and maturing rapidly once he got back to Ventura. In 12 starts for Ventura this spring, Austin Rubick was 2-4 with a 6.32 ERA and 59 strikeouts (and […]
Tampa Bay Rays: Cade Gotta succeeding thanks to unorthodox swing
July 25, 2017 at 2:13 am
[…] right in drafting him several years ago. Milwaukee Brewers prospect Austin Rubick is motivated by the love of his family and hometown that buoyed him after the toughest year of his […]
Milwaukee Brewers: Austin Rubick shows off quick development in pro ball
August 12, 2017 at 11:25 am
[…] serious power pitching prospect. I know the California native pretty well, as far as baseball goes, having seen him in multiple outings back at Ventura earlier this spring. Even then, his raw talent was apparent, though he’d sit at 88 mph nearly as often as he did […]