This week’s Bells in the Bigs looks at two major leaguers and up-in-coming minor leaguers within the Chicago Cubs Organization.
Right-handed pitchers Michael Rucker and Adrian Sampson appeared on the mound at Joe Martin Field and now take the mound on the big stage for the Cubs.
Sampson played for the Bells in 2011 and accumulated a team high 63.1 innings pitched in nine starts that included two complete games, finishing with a 1.70 ERA.
The following summer, Sampson was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He remained in the Pirates system through 2015 when he was traded to the Seattle Mariners in a deal involving LHP J.A. Happ. While developing within the Pittsburgh organization, he didn’t see any playing time at the Major League level but did make his debut as the starter for the Mariners at Fenway Park on June 18, 2016, in a 6-2 loss to the Red Sox.
That was his only appearance until 2018 when he appeared in five games and started four for the Texas Rangers. The Rangers claimed Sampson on waivers in November of 2016 and he worked his way back to the triple-A level in 2017 with the Round Rock Express. He appeared in 40 games on the MLB stage between 2018-2019 and pitched 148.8 innings for the Rangers. He was released at the end of the 2019 season but signed a minor-league contract with the Cubs in May 2021.
The Cubs assigned him to the triple-A Iowa Cubs where Sampson tossed 81.2 innings in 2021 with a 4.96 ERA, a 4-5 record and made 14 starts. That same year, he appeared in 10 games with the Cubs, starting five, and totaled 35.1 innings on the bump and tallied a 2.80 ERA.
Cubs’ teammate Michael Rucker was a Bell for two seasons in 2013 and 2014. He appeared in 17 games, made four starts and dealt 35.1 innings with a cumulative ERA of 1.45.
After his senior year at BYU, Rucker was selected in the 11th round of the MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. He began his minor league career with the AZL (Arizona Complex League) Cubs but was quickly assigned to the A-short-season Eugene Emeralds. Rucker only appeared in seven games in 2016 but then appeared in 20 games for the single-A-advanced affiliate Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 2017. He was then bumped up to the double-A affiliate Tennessee Smokies in 2018 where he threw a minor-league career high 132.2 innings over 26 starts. He began the 2019 season with the Smokies and then was assigned to the triple-A Iowa Cubs at the end of the summer. The Baltimore Orioles claimed Rucker off waivers in December of 2019, but he returned to the Cubs three months later. He made his Major League debut on July 30, 2017, at Nationals Park in a 4-3 loss to the Nationals when he tossed two innings and registered a strikeout. Rucker threw 28.1 innings in 2021 with the Cubs and registered one save.
Chase Strumpf has yet to make his major league debut but currently plays second base for the double-A affiliate Tennessee Smokies. In 2016, Strumpf appeared in 45 games with the Bells and batted .247 and led the team with six home runs.
He would go on to impress at UCLA for three seasons (2017-2019) including one summer in the Northwoods League with the Duluth Huskies. In the summer of 2018, he was invited to play on the United States Collegiate National Team but declined. During his junior year at UCLA, Strumpf slashed .279/.416/.472 and was listed as the best second baseman prospect available for the upcoming draft by MLB Pipeline. That summer, Strumpf was selected 64th overall in the second round of the 2019 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. He played for three teams in his first season in the minors and advanced to single-A-full-season affiliate South Bend Cubs.
In 2021, he began the season with the South Bend Cubs and batted a minor-league career best .309 over 55 games. At the end of the season, he was assigned to the double-A affiliate Tennessee Smokies with whom he will begin the upcoming 2022 schedule.
Finally, right hander Ben Leeper was a Bell in 2018 and appeared in 15 games, started two, and notched a 2.88 ERA before his fourth year at Oklahoma State University. The summer with the Bells helped Leeper fine tune his game and he returned to Oklahoma for the 2019 season where he dealt his best season on the mound with the Cowboys. His minor league career began on July 21, 2020, when he was signed by the Chicago Cubs as a free agent. His minor league debut wasn’t until 2021 when he was assigned to the South Bend Cubs, but he quickly climbed the ladder and made his first outing with the Smokies on May 6, 2021. He remained with the Smokies for 10 games and tallied a 1.26 ERA over 14.1 innings which helped elevate him to the triple-A affiliate Iowa Cubs.
Leeper appeared in 17 games with Iowa in a closer role and dominated with a 1.31 ERA over 20.2 innings pitched.
These four Bells alumni are on track for Major League success.