June 25, 2008
Times Free Press
Chattanooga: Jukich earning a Reds look
By David Paschall
Chattanooga Lookouts starting pitcher Ben Jukich
could be a big-league injury away from joining the rotation of the
Not bad for someone drafted just two years ago.
Not bad also for someone who flunked out of junior college and pumped
gas to pay bills.
“You could ask everybody in our clubhouse
about their backgrounds, and you’d probably find a few like
that,” Lookouts manager Mike Goff said. “That’s
a pretty good one, though.”
Jukich didn’t plan this route as a youth
with gargantuan dreams, but his focus and work ethic the past two
seasons are paying off. Through 15 starts this year, the 25-year-old
lefty is 7-2 with a 2.80 earned run average and has racked up 77
He leads the Southern League with 96 1/3 innings
pitched, and opponents are batting just .235 against him.
“Our motto with him is ‘Any pitch
at any time,’” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “He’s
not afraid to throw breaking balls behind in the count. He’s
not afraid to pitch in. He’s done a really good job of controlling
the running game, which is something he’s worked very hard
“He’s just continuing to progress
and has a genuine passion to win.”
Jukich admits he could have used more passion
in 2001 after graduating from Denfeld High School in Duluth, Minn.
He attended Central Lakes Community College in Brainerd, Minn.,
but failed out after one semester.
“I drank a little bit too much,” he
said. “I didn’t go to class. I tried to play baseball
and that was it, and it worked until grades came around.”
With a baseball career on hold or possibly over,
Jukich was out of school for two years. He played some during the
summers and earned paychecks by working all hours at gas stations
Jukich enlisted in the Army and was two weeks
away from getting shipped to Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., when
he received a scholarship offer to McCook (Neb.) Community College.
“It was the best thing to happen to me,”
he said. “Looking back on it now, I’m obviously really
happy with the decision I made, especially with them going into
the war with Iraq. I have more respect for those guys than anybody
else, but that’s not for me. That’s for someone else.
This is what I was born to do.”
After performing well athletically and academically
at McCook, Jukich transferred to Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, S.D.
In 2006, the 6-foot-5, 205-pounder went 9-5 with a 1.62 ERA and
led the NAIA in strikeouts (144) and strikeouts per nine innings
Jukich became the first player in school and Great
Plains Athletic Conference history to get drafted that same year
when the Oakland A’s selected him in the 13th round and signed
him for $20,000. He wasn’t with the A’s for long, as
Oakland traded him to Cincinnati last summer as part of a deal that
sent pitcher Marcus McBeth to the Reds in exchange for former Lookouts
outfielder Chris Denorfia.
In 14 starts last season at high Single-A Sarasota,
Jukich went 8-2 with a 3.55 ERA.
“To be honest, I expected this out of myself,”
he said. “It’s nothing new to me, especially after the
end of last season. My whole thing this year was to get off to a
good start, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’m
Jukich was rated by Baseball America before the
2007 season as the No. 27 prospect in Oakland’s organization.
Before this season, he was not ranked among Cincinnati’s top
30 by the same publication.
“That’s another thing that keeps me
going,” he said. “I look at Baseball America and I see
all their top prospects, and I say, ‘I should be on that list.
I should be in the top five.’ It’s more motivation for
me to go out there and put up zeros.”
Said Goff: “This kid is so dedicated to
what he’s doing. I’ve been in here sometimes at 10 o’clock
in the morning and Jukich is sitting on the couch on days he’s
pitching. He’s given us consistency. He began this year as
the sleeper on our staff, but I don’t think we can hide him
Jukich has been Chattanooga’s top pitcher
since the May 26 promotion of Daryl Thompson, who worked five scoreless
innings last Saturday at Yankee Stadium in his major league debut.
Jukich cannot match the velocity or the professional experience
of Thompson, who was drafted in 2003, but the thought of beginning
the season together in Chattanooga and ending it in Cincinnati is
Continuing to mix up pitches and change angles
on his fastballs and breaking balls could make it happen.
“When I saw Daryl on the mound at Yankee
Stadium, it fired me up,” Jukich said. “Right now, I
feel like I can pitch at that level. I’m not down-talking
the Cincinnati Reds or anything like that, but I’m in a situation
right now where I can go out there and make them make a decision
to bring me up or move me somewhere where I can get another opportunity.”