The Mariners added another right-handed bat this morning, trading for 32-year-old outfielder Justin Ruggiano. Ruggiano isn't a big name, but he definitely fills what we've been covering as a glaring hole in right field for Seattle, and he does so at the relatively low cost of minor league right-handed reliever Matt Brazis.
Ruggiano is a lifetime .257/.319/.431 hitter in 398 games with Tampa Bay, Miami and the Cubs from 2007 to 2014. He hasn't had an OPS under .833 against left-handed pitching in his last three seasons and owns a lifetime slugging percentage of .508 versus southpaws, an area that Seattle has struggled with greatly in the last several seasons. Adding Ruggiano to Nelson Cruz should help alleviate those issues for the club. But while the Texas A & M product has hit markedly better against left-handed pitching in his career -- .836 OPS to .704 OPS -- Justin posted solid numbers against right-handed pitching last year for Chicago and could definitely be more than a strict platoon bat for Seattle considering the other options (namely Stefen Romero and James Jones).
A passable defender in center and a strong defender in both outfield corners, Ruggiano is an athletic player with decent tools across the board, also running and throwing well. His black mark or Achilles' heal has always been the swing-and-miss. He struck out 70 times in 250 trips in 2014, posting one of the highest swinging strike rates in baseball (15.2%) and has fanned at a 26.1% rate in his big league career. But he's also posted consistently strong walk numbers and saw 3.96 pitches-per-plate-appearance in 2014.
Brazis had a very strong season for the M's in 2014, pitching to a combined 2.36 ERA in 72 1/3 innings at two levels and being recognized after the year as the organization's Relief Pitcher of the year. He then went to the Arizona Fall League where he had a bit of a rough time, with a 5.11 ERA, 1.54 WHIP and .298 oAVG in 10 games. For his minor league career he has posted a very impressive 10.9 K/9 while walking only 2.8-per-nine in exactly 100 outings in relief, which started with him striking out 19 of the first 28 batters he faced. The right-hander out of Boston College has a fastball that can work in the 92-94 range and also has a sharp slider that both play up because of some deception in his delivery.
That wasn't exactly the entire cost, as to add Ruggiano to the roster the M's also had to sacrifice reliever Logan Bawcom -- acquired from the Dodgers in the Brandon League deal a few seasons ago -- from the 40-man roster. Bawcom, a fast worker with a good fastball, had pitched fairly well in Seattle's system, but he hadn't progressed much in areas (command, secondary offerings) that needed improvement over the past two-plus seasons.
Both Brazis and Bawcom were slated to be in the SeattleClubhouse Top-50, but in Ruggiano the M's get a player with two years of club control remaining that represents a proven step up from the other in-house options and a bat that has a higher Isolated Power number than Victor Martinez (.174 to .171) since breaking into the league in 2007 and is just outside the top third of all hitters with 1,000 or more plate appearances in wRC+ (106) over that time, too.
Seattle may not be done making moves for the offense at this point, but if they are, Ruggiano is a nice piece that should help the club compete in 2015.
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