Carlos Ruiz has been the Phillies catcher-in-waiting for a couple years now. After a break out season in 2004 when he hit a career-high 17 home runs at Double-A Reading, it appeared that Ruiz would be a major leaguer before long and that Mike Lieberthal would be a goner. Then, Ruiz stumbled in his first season at Triple-A, only to rebound and put up big numbers last season for the Red Barons hitting .307 with 16 home runs in just 100 games. The fact that Lieberthal was set for free agency following the season didn't get Ruiz the automatic nod to take over behind the plate though and the Phillies went out and signed Rod Barajas. It appears that Ruiz will at least see substantial time behind the plate, but is going to have to fight for all the playing time that he might get.
Ruiz didn't blast onto the scene as a major leaguer, but by the time the season ended, he was seemingly settling in at the plate and starting to look like a guy who belonged in the majors. That comfort level will be important for the 28 year old who would seem to have pretty much in front of him considering that he hit the majors at a later age than many thought that he would. Part of the problem for Ruiz won't just be winning the job, but holding onto it. There will be competition coming from the minors in the form of Jason Jaramillo in the next couple of seasons and then, there's Lou Marson and Jesus Sanchez behind him. No, nothing is going to come easy for Carlos Ruiz.
Carlos Ruiz' career stats
|YEAR / TEAM||HR||RBI||AVG||G||AB||R||H||2B||3B||SB||BB||KO||OBP|
|Minor League Totals||55||303||.278||631||2234||284||621||125||23||33||154||238||.333|
Acquired: Signed by the Phillies as an amateur free agent in December, 1998.
Batting and Power: For Carlos Ruiz, it appears that he needs to find a comfort zone at the plate and he doesn't always find it easily. He has generally struggled every time he moves up a level or at least doesn't put up the impressive sort of numbers that he does in his second season. In 2004, a light went on for Ruiz and he developed pretty solid power at Reading. The next season he moved up a level and again just didn't look quite like the same hitter until his second season at Triple-A when he again showed power and took over as a true team leader. The same has been true at the major league level. It's likely that he can hit 15-20 home runs per season as a regular, but it's going to take him time to settle in. The good news is that the settling process has already started, but the Phillies were probably right to bring in a veteran catcher to help Ruiz along.
Baserunning and Speed: This isn't a big part of Ruiz' game, much like with most catchers. He has good instincts on the bases and will grab an extra base here and there, but won't swipe many bases.
Defense: This is where the Phillies have always raved about Carlos Ruiz. He throws himself around behind the plate and puts his body in front of pitches in the dirt. He's got a strong, accurate arm and throws out a good percentage of would-be base stealers and will make the occasional throw behind a runner at first base to pick him off. He works well with pitchers, who respect his knowledge of the game and the way he works to make them look better.
Projection: It looks like Ruiz is a lock to at least win a spot on the roster, but how much playing time he'll get is up in the air. It's likely that he'll become the personal catcher for one of the Phillies starters and find some opportunities behind the plate. Barajas isn't an everyday type of catcher that you want to over use and he and Ruiz will probably each thrive by having the other there to spell them from time to time. Ruiz may sit against some of the tougher pitchers, especially early in the season, but should settle in and see a good amount of playing time.
Comparison: It's not out of the question that Ruiz could mimic a former Phillies catcher who also had a tough time breaking into the lineup; Johnny Estrada. Both have good defensive skills and have to work hard to put up their offensive numbers. The key is that both do work hard and the Phillies believe that in Ruiz they have a catcher who will be at least as good as Estrada and possibly better.