Zac Rosscup gets promoted to the Triple A level in the Chicago Cubs' farm system

Zac Rosscup is a step away.

A step away from the big leagues, that is.

Rosscup, who prepped at Forest Grove High School before starring at Chemeketa Community College, was added to the Triple A Iowa Cubs’ roster on Aug. 9, and he made his first appearance for the team two days later. by: COURTESY PHOTO: DYLAN HEUER/IOWA CUBS - Former Forest Grove pitcher Zac Rosscup, now at the Triple A level with the Iowa Cubs, throws a pitch during a game last week.

The Iowa outfit is an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, which means that Rosscup is now playing just one rung below the top level of professional baseball.

Through Monday, the former Viking, a left-handed pitcher, had already made five relief appearances for the Cubs, who play in the Pacific Coast League. In four innings of work, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound reliever had given up three hits, one run (unearned) and four walks compared with 10 strikeouts.

“It’s exciting for us, for our program, to see that a kid who was maybe a little overlooked out of high school can develop the skills and get a shot to get drafted,” said Nathan Pratt, who took over the Chemeketa baseball program in 2009, Rosscup’s sophomore season.

“And he’s taken advantage of that by working his way up. Not being a top-round draft pick, that’s not easy to do. He’s stuck to it. He got a ton better. He works at it. He’s pretty passionate about what he does.”

Pratt said the 25-year-old Rosscup throws his fastball at 94 or 95 miles per hour — an improvement of 5 to 6 mph from his college days — and he also possesses a quality breaking pitch.

“He’s always been able to command his slider really well, and so he’s just got the combination of (being) blessed with good arm strength and just superior command,” noted Pratt, who said that Rosscup was the team’s top pitcher when he was at Chemeketa.

Rosscup has come a long way since he was taken by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 28th round of the 2009 draft. That year, he started his professional career in West Virginia with the Princeton Rays, Tampa’s rookie affiliate in the Appalachian League.

In 2010, he made a short stint with the Rays’ rookie affiliate in the Gulf Coast League before spending most of his season with the Hudson Valley Renegades in the New York-Penn League. Hudson Valley is Tampa Bay’s Class A short-season affiliate, the same level as the Hillsboro Hops.

In 2011, he was part of a blockbuster eight-player trade that sent him, along with Fernando Perez and 2008 American League Championship Series MVP Matt Garza to the Cubs, who sent five players to Tampa Bay in the deal.

“I got a call and I was actually sleeping at the time,” Rosscup recalled during a recent radio interview. “I missed the call and checked my voice mail and Mitch Lukevics (Tampa Bay’s Director of Minor League Operations) ... left me a voice mail saying, ‘Rosscup, call me. It’s kind of important.’ So I was like, ‘All right, I probably just got fired.’ That was the initial thought through my head.

“So I called him back and ... he kind of gave me the run-down of how it went down, and said it was a great opportunity for both teams. Being traded kind of woke me up to the fact that people have had their eyes on me. In the last year I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities to ... showcase myself.”

In 2012, Rosscup made brief stops at the lower pro levels before settling in with the Class AA Tennessee Smokies.

To date, Rosscup has made more appearances for the Knoxville-based Smokies than any other club in his pro career. Over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Rosscup threw 65 2/3 innings over 48 appearances for Tennessee. During that span, he yielded just 45 hits, 24 runs and 38 walks while striking out 95 batters. He also trimmed his earned run average with the Smokies from 4.84 in 11 appearances last season to 2.49 in 37 showings this year.

“I think he’s just one of those guys that as a lefthander, coming out of the bullpen, has been very successful at getting lefthanders out at the pro level,” said Pratt, who has maintained regular contact with Rosscup since he left Chemeketa and follows his career online.

“I don’t know if that’s what his role will continue to be, but there’s certainly a spot for those guys that can come in in pressure situations and get one or two or three hitters out. That’s something Zach has.”

With the carrot of a Major League call-up dangling in front of him, Rosscup said his approach on the mound is pretty simple.

“I go out there and every time they give me the ball I’m going to try to put up a zero for the team,” he said. “I don’t really think too much (about) saves or numbers, I just go out there and try to do what I can to help the team win.”

As far as what he needs to work on to someday earn that MLB call-up, Rosscup said: “Just working on being more consistent with (my) fastball and slider. Throwing sliders for strikes and then being able to throw them out of the zone and trying to get people to chase. Just refining everything. You can always make everything a little bit better.”

As Pratt pointed out, Rosscup is now “a phone call away” from every ballplayer’s dream.

“I’m sure he’s exceeded some people’s expectations, but I know he hasn’t exceeded his own, and that’s probably one of the reasons he is where he is now,” Pratt said. “Hopefully he can make that one more step and get a job in the show.”

Assistant sports editor Zack Palmer contributed to this story.

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