Kentucky freshman basketball sensation Anthony Davis isn't the only teenager from the Chicago area who likely will parley an unexpected but sizeable growth spurt into a promising career in professional sports.Meet Mundelein's Ryan Borucki, a fire-balling left-handed pitcher who has leaped ahead of his rivals to become one of the leading major league prospects in the Midwest this spring. Not bad for a kid whose baseball hero is Scott Podsednik.Two years ago, Borucki was a 5-foot-9, 130-pounder who threw a 76 mph fastball, not hard enough to break a pane of glass. This year, the 18-year-old senior is a 6-foot-4, 175-pounder whose 92 mph heater regularly draws as many as 30 major league scouts to his games."I wanted to play college baseball but I didn't grow so I didn't think it would happen," Borucki said. "Then I started to grow and began to throw harder. It was nerve-wracking to see all those scouts standing behind the screen with radar guns."There was pressure at first. When I made my first start, I thought I had to impress them. Now I just want to help my team win and whatever happens with the pros...well, it happens. Sure, I want to play pro ball. It always has been my goal since I was a kid. If I get the opportunity, I'll take it."So you can imagine that this is a very trying time for the 18-year-old youngster. He can't pitch. He has been shut down for about 10 days with tendonitis in his elbow. He won't throw again until next week. And the major league draft is just around the corner.He developed a soreness in his elbow in the fifth inning while pitching a no-hitter against Cary-Grove last week. He wanted to complete the no-hitter so he didn't tell anyone. He finished the no-hitter and struck out13 along the way. That was the good news. Then came the bad news."I thought I would bounce back. But I didn't," Borucki said. "When the soreness didn't go away, I wondered what was wrong. Tommy John surgery ran through my mind a couple of times. I was sleeping and thinking about it. But once I went to the doctor and he assured me that it wasn't serious, it took a big weight off my back."The major league draft is coming up (June 4) and I'm missing 10 days, one or two starts. Hopefully, I'll get back as fast as possible. The scouts say I'll be drafted in the first 10 rounds, maybe as high as the sixth round. That's good enough to send me to the minors."Borucki, who also is committed to Iowa and could opt to attend college rather than sign out of high school, was off to a sensational start this spring. He is 3-0. In 12 23 innings, he has allowed only four hits and no earned runs. He has struck out 21 while walking only three.He plays first base when not pitching and is one of Mundelein's top batsmen. He is hitting .343 with eight RBI and eight doubles in 12 games. The Mustangs are 13-2 after beating Evanston1-0 on Saturday."Ryan is a late bloomer. He was our No. 3 pitcher last year. But he grew three inches and added 6-7 mph on his fastball. Now every time he pitches, 20 to 30 scouts show up," said Mundelein coach Todd Parola."I'm not surprised. Scouts love lefties who throw hard. My only concern is that Ryan continues to pitch and not become a thrower who wants to see how hard he can throw. Scouts like his velocity. I still think he has an upside. He is lean and lanky. He can fill out. He has more potential for growth."Borucki agrees. He loves to eat but, for whatever reason, he can't see to put on weight. He wants to weigh 195-200 pounds but despite a nutritional diet that calls for more meat and vegetables and rice, he doesn't gain any weight. And he refuses to give up pizza, soda pop and candy."I guess that's what gives me such a upside, why the scouts project me as having the potential to grow bigger," Borucki said. "I can fill out. It's a plus that I'm skinny for the time being."One thing is certain: his fastball is getting faster. He has been working with Kyle Zaleski, who operates an elite power pitching program at the Libertyville Sports Complex. Under Zaleski's tutelage, Borucki's progress has been dramatic."He has helped to increase my velocity," Borucki said. "His whole thing is you should throw five miles per hour faster after the program is done, from November to March. It has worked for me. Last year, I was throwing 82 miles per hour as a junior. I was throwing 86 at the beginning of the season, then 88 this year. I threw 92 at the Super 60 on Super Bowl Sunday. Kyle thinks I can throw faster. If I fill out, I can hit 95-plus. And that makes my changeup even more effective."Borucki and Parola agree on something else: his best pitch is his changeup, not his fastball. And a changeup becomes even more effective when the guy who's throwing it also has a 92 mph fastball instead of 76. He also has a sidewinder curve that puts left-handed batters on their heels."It was a tough assignment when I got bigger and stronger," Borucki said. "I didn't know how to pitch before. I was a first baseman. My changeup was my best pitch. When I was younger, I worked on it because I couldn't throw the ball past anyone. I was a junk-baller. The changeup was my go-to pitch. I had to learn to spot pitches. I could throw it down the middle as a freshman but it will be hit hard on the varsity level. Now I can throw all three pitches for strikes."There was a time when Borucki thought he was a hard-hitting first baseman, not a pitcher. In fact, he still prefers being a position player who plays every day. As a sophomore, he considered himself to be a hitter. His father still throws batting practice to his son every day. They've been doing it since Ryan was 5 years old."I liked playing every day. That's the most fun I get in baseball," Ryan said. "But pitching is fun, too. I like pitching more and more as I get older."His dream would be to be drafted by the Chicago White Sox, his favorite team. Growing up, he always favored the White Sox over the Cubs. And he became an especially big man when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 and his favorite player, Scott Podsednik, emerged as a World Series hero."Nobody else was a fan of his. He was a silent guy," Borucki said. "But when he hit that walkoff home run in Game 2...well, I really became a big fan."
The Blackhawks were finally getting healthy and now may be missing a key player once again. That depends on how Niklas Hjalmarsson feels after suffering an upper-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.
It was certainly the toughest part of the Blackhawks' victory, a 6-3 triumph that has the Blackhawks closing in on the Wild. We'll see what the Hjalmarsson update is over the weekend. Until then, let's look at the notables from this one.
What Worked: The offense. We'll give an honorable mention to the penalty kill, which snuffed out all of the Coyotes' chances including a double minor that overlapped the second and third periods. But the offense was just buzzing again. Here's another shocker: the top line is still working just fine. The trio got things started with Nick Schmaltz's goal just 37 seconds into the game (Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik assisted). And much like in their meeting with the Coyotes earlier this month, the Blackhawks needed just about every bit of that offense. While we're on this topic...
What Didn't Work: The first-period defense. The Blackhawks looked like they were in good shape up 3-1 but then they gave up two goals within a minute late in the period. Michal Rozsival had a rough start in his first game since Jan. 15, but overall, the Blackhawks' defense through that first period looked discombobulated. Obviously, it didn't help that the Blackhawks lost Hjalmarsson during the first, either.
Star of the game: Patrick Kane. One game after Jonathan Toews recorded a hat trick Kane did the same, scoring his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. On a night in which the Blackhawks dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, Kane got a little extra playing time. His first goal came on a first-period shift with Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero, the second off a long pass from Brent Seabrook and the third with his usual line mates.
He Said It: "I didn't play much before I got hurt, then I missed four weeks with my injury. It wasn't easy but definitely the way the team's playing now, it made it easier for me. It felt like the first game of the season for me but glad we got the victory and glad I was back playing. I enjoyed it." — Michal Rozsival on returning to the Blackhawks' lineup.
By the Numbers:
6 – Number of times, in their last eight games, the Blackhawks have scored five or more goals.
342 – Assists for Jonathan Toews, who tied Dennis Hull for 12th all-time in franchise history in that category.
35 – Combined points for the Blackhawks' top liners Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik in their nine games together. The breakdown in those nine games: Toews has 16 points, Panik 10 and Schmaltz nine.
1997 – The last time the Blackhawks had hat tricks in back-to-back regular-season games. Alexei Zhamnov and Eric Daze had them on April 11 and April 13, 1997, respectively.