Keep Darrin Ruf's value in perspective

Darin Ruf has lots of power and plenty of talent. The problem is whether the Phillies can trust handing their left field job to him in 2013, since he's only played as high as Double-A.

All of Phillies Nation was excited when Darin Ruf hit his first major league home run on Tuesday night. The Phillies' cold-shoulder dugout reaction even made it onto SporstCenter. Almost instantly, calls started flowing into local sports-talk radio stations about how Ruf is going to be a great player, which he likely is. Words and phrases like "must be", "has to be" and "definitely" were used by callers to describe Ruf's inclusion as one of the Phillies starting outfielders for 2013. 

Now, just calm down! Before we start pulling out the comparisons to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and even Mike Schmidt, let's just take a look at what we've got here.

In Darin Ruf, the Phillies have a definite power-hitting prospect. Keep in mind that prospect is the key word there. If you look at the list of Phillies who have hit a home run for their first major league hit, the biggest names on the list are Chase Utley (2003) and Andy Seminick (1943). Names like Ron Jones, Ricky Jordan and Bobby Estalella dot the list. Even pitcher Larry Christensen did it in 1975. There are some decent players like John Mayberry Jr. and Marlon Anderson, who have also done it, but if the talk of fans is anything to judge by, they're expecting at least Chase Utley status for Darin Ruf.

The point is, that Darin Ruf has had a remarkable season. If you include the Eastern League Playoffs, he's hit 40 home runs this season, he set Double-A Reading's single-season home run record by hitting 38 home runs, surpassing Ryan Howard, who hit 37. Again, while it's right and good to credit Ruf for an amazing season, keep things in perspective. If you search the record books, you'll find a lot of players with Double-A home run accomplishments who never even made it to the majors, let alone became better than average players at the MLB level. Late in the season, there was talk that Ruf might break the Eastern League record of 41 home runs in a season set by Ken Strong (1930) and tied by Rick Lancellotti (1979). In case you're wondering, Strong never reached the majors and Lancellotti played a total of 36 major league games with two home runs. 

It is very possible that Ruf would benefit from a season, or at least a chunk of a season, playing at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. 

The risk is this. If you jump Ruf from Reading to the Phillies in a starting role for 2013, you open up a big question mark in the lineup. Yes, there's always a question mark when you put a rookie into The Opening day lineup, but even more so when that player is jumping from Double-A. That's not to say that it can't be done with success. Realize that even elite prospects like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout spent some time at the Triple-A level and for as good as he is, Ruf is nowhere near being considered an elite prospect. Is it possible that pretty much every talent evaluator has underestimated Ruf? Sure. Is it likely? No. 

So now that I've thrown some cold water on your Darin Ruf Hall of Fame ballot, you're probably thinking something like this; "what if we platooned him with Domonic Brown?" 

Not a great idea. Ruf needs regular at-bats at this point in his career and as the right-handed portion of a platoon, he would be on the short-end of the stick, so to speak. If the choice is to either let him play everyday at Lehigh Valley or platoon in the majors, it's a better idea to make him an IronPig. Besides, Ruf's numbers suggest that he's not going to have trouble hitting right-handed pitching. At Reading this season, his 38 home runs were evenly split between left-handed and right-handed pitchers and he hit a strong .284 against right-handers (and an amazing .392 against lefties).

Nowhere in this article does it say that Darin Ruf isn't a great player. What it says is that for all of his success, nothing is guaranteed. All of these folks anointing him as the Phillies left fielder in 2013 will disappear quickly if he's hitting .190 with no home runs on May 1st. All that's being stressed is some caution. The Phillies need a big bat in the lineup and Ruf fits that bill perfectly. The only question is whether he's the right guy for the job on opening day or if that needs to be pushed back a little. He's got a sweet swing and loads of talent. He may be a bit of an adventure in left field, but hey, go to Bull's Barbecue and talk defense with the big guy who runs the place. Darin Ruf should provide much more of a Chase Utley than a Bobby Estalella for the Phillies in the near future; the only problem is defining 'near'.

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