Truth and Darin Ruf

I’m sorry.

It’s my first post here at Crashburn Alley and already I’m going to have to rain on your prospect parade.  Bill brought me here to deliver honesty and perspective and, since he worked tirelessly for several minutes to convince me to join the site, I’m going to give it to you.   Have a seat, we need to have a little talk about Darin Ruf.

Darin Ruf hit lots of baseballs really far this year. In fact, he hit 38 of them over an outfield fence somewhere and did that while sporting a .308/.408/.620 line with 71 extra base hits while at Double-A.  It’s a very impressive season no matter where you’re playing baseball. He hit well enough that he convinced the suits to put Mike Stutes on the 60-day DL and let him button up a big league uniform.  People want to know if something even remotely close to the sort of offensive blitzkrieg Ruf unleashed at Reading can be replicated at our game’s pinnacle.

For some, early indications are encouraging.  Ruf’s cup of coffee was hot.  He hit .333/.351/.727 with two walks in 35 PAs.  I probably don’t have to warn this site’s readership about the perils of small sample sizes, especially in September when rosters are diluted.  Combine the insignificance of that sample with the uselessness of minor league statistics (from Double-A and below they are almost entirely useless, folks) and the only way we can assess what Darin Ruf might be is by putting on our polo shirts and scouting him.  Don’t forget to put your travel size sunscreen in your bag and grab extra pens in case your favorite one dries out. Vamanos.

The first thing we try to do is place the player somewhere on the defensive spectrum. Darin Ruf can only play first base and he’s not even very good there. Sure, the Phillies have experimented with him in left field lately but….what’s a gentle way to put it…. he hasn’t taken to the position.  He’s rotund, unathletic, and lacks defensive instincts.  He actually got himself in better shape as the season went on but he remains comically lost in left field.  You might say, “Eric, Pat Burrell was a terrible defensive outfielder and we lived with that for nearly a decade.”  To that I say, “feh.” Burrell at least had a well above average arm that made up for some of his immobility.  Crowds in Reading would cheer when he’d haul in a routine flyball hit right at him.  It’s not Ruf’s fault.  He’s probably played first base all his life.  Playing baseball is really hard and it might be too late for him to learn a new position.  So Ruf”s a first base only guy, which means he needs to mash. I MEAN EFFING MASH if he’s going to be a useful big leaguer at all.

In Double-A, he mashed. Before I get to the elephant in the room, let’s examine Ruf’s offensive prowess in a vacuum.  Ruf has tremendous raw power, mostly to his pull side, and he actually tracks the ball very well.  He’s very comfortable dropping the head of the bat and striking balls at his knees with authority.  He’s not a three true outcomes darling by any means, the guy makes decent contact which gives him a better chance to actualize his power potential.  You can have all the power in the world but if your hit tool is lacking, you’ll never tap into it (Brandon Wood, Brandon Allen, Greg Halman, Corey Patterson and countless others). Now, there are a host of issues. First, Ruf has a hole in his swing on the outer half because his front foot doesn’t come all the way closed before he swings. Ruf starts with an open stance but never draws his left foot parallel to his right, limiting his reach and thus, his plate coverage. Second, he doesn’t identify good breaking balls well.  You can see this in the ugly swings Ruf takes at them as well as in his weight transfer.  You can see Ruf’s girth disproportionately shifted toward his front foot.  Even when he does pick up the curve, he’s habitually early on them.  Those two deficiencies in lockstep with one another are tough to overcome.  Breaking ball away, breaking ball away, breaking ball away…..it won’t be pretty once advance scouts figure it out. Even when he does bring that front foot all the way around, it gets down late and Ruf’s entire swing begins late as well. This leads me to believe that he’ll struggle against good velocity up and in as well. These are things advance scouts will notice in the Majors and exploit.

Look! It’s video of Gerrit Cole throwing Ruf a 90mph slider in July. Note Ruf’s lack balance and plate coverage as he flails at slidey.

So how does a guy with these issues do what Ruf did this season? Folks, Ruf is 26 years old and has been hammering weak Eastern League pitchers who are usually four or five years his junior.  Words cannot express the sort of development that occurs between ages 21 and 26.  Not just in baseball but in all facets of life. I wish I’d kept count of all the crappy changeups I saw Ruf punch out to left center field this season. I need more than one hand to count them. If Ruf were to become a relevant Major Leaguer it would be a historic event. I can’t think of anyone his age at Double-A that became a legitimate major league player. I’m absolutely rooting for him, but I’d be lying if I said I thought it would happen.  Go forth and spread the bearishness.

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57 comments

  1. nik

    October 05, 2012 12:32 PM

    Disagree on a few fronts. First, AA numbers are not insignificant, in fact most people put more stock in them than the AAA numbers since this is where most of the best prospects spend their time. Secondly, Ruf won 2 all-america gold gloves there in College, so I’m skeptical of anyone that dismisses his defense there without plenty of first-hand knowledge.

  2. JM

    October 05, 2012 12:38 PM

    now, what if you just ruined the deal RAJ had going for Ruf to the Rangers for Olt? They have a need, we have a need…it would have been glorious, especially since you are right about Ruf. Responsible journalism…wax poetic on our great Phillies prospects in the off-season. Let those other lazy writers and scouts know how incredibly talented every single minor league Philly is!!

  3. Larry

    October 05, 2012 12:55 PM

    I’m new to Crashburn Alley. I don’t know who longenhagen is or why we should consider his opinion. I’m not saying he (assuming it’s a he) is wrong, I just do know his background and why he deserves credibility.

  4. Bill Baer

    October 05, 2012 01:05 PM

    Eric works for Baseball Info Solutions as a video scout. Paul Boye used to work there as well before moving to MLB Advanced Media. The people that work at BIS know what they’re talking about.

    You can read Eric’s previous work here:

    longenhagen.blogspot.com/

  5. longenhagen

    October 05, 2012 01:13 PM

    Ok, let me answer some things,

    Nik- The fact that Double-A is usually better stocked with prospects is exactly why those statistics are less reliable. Enough players at Double-A are still skirting present skills that could dominate at the level to work on building lesser attributes for the future. Not all players are making these investments. If you’re a right handed pitcher who needs to work on commanding your fastball to the glove-side, you don’t care that the lefty at the plate is a pull-happy fastball hitter. You’re going to try to spot your fastball in anyway because it’s what you need to work on. This creates all sorts of Game Theory chaos. No stats as anything more than a passing reference fr me below Triple-A.

  6. longenhagen

    October 05, 2012 01:25 PM

    Larry-

    Hi, I’m Eric. I’m 23, graduated from Saint Joe’s in 2011. I worked in the Phillies minor league system for four years (doing everything you could ever imagine) and showed up to work early every day (ok fine, most days) so I could watch batting practice, bullpen sessions and bug the hell out of scouts. Then I worked at BIS this past year and watched baseball everyday for eight hours a day. My vacations are a week at the Arizona Fall League. Jeez, I sound obsessed. The stuff you read here will be a mix of my own personal evaluation and the opinions of scouts I talk to here and there. I’m going to be wrong A LOT because I’m trying to predict the future of children. Mostly, writing here gives me a valid justification to watch as much baseball as I do. I hope this helps.

  7. Phylan

    October 05, 2012 01:25 PM

    If there is anything I trust less than an ML Gold Glove it’s probably a college gold glove

  8. longenhagen

    October 05, 2012 01:34 PM

    By the way, my humble little blog has 22 comments over 4 years of writing so….ad hominems welcome!

  9. JT

    October 05, 2012 01:34 PM

    If this is true, it’s depressing on two fronts, because Domonic Brown has really only had one good, big time prospect quarter season in triple A.

    And having seen just about every one of each of Brown and Ruf’s MLB ABs. (small sample size with Ruf sure) Ruf looks like the more competent hitter — who squares the ball much better and has less holes in his swing. And Brown’s level of outfield play certainly doesn’t make up for it even with his cannon.

    But I’m keeping my fingers crossed on both of them, although you’d need an Andruw Jones type talent to play CF between them.

  10. JT

    October 05, 2012 01:44 PM

    Speaking of Mike Olt, he’s 24 and has never played AAA. (And has struggled in his very brief MLB career) So why is he a big time prospect? Just position?

  11. longenhagen

    October 05, 2012 01:53 PM

    Plus raw power and a good defensive 3B, which is incredible because he was atrocious defensively in college at UConn. I’m not as high on Olt as others seem to be because there’s a good amount of swing and miss there but I last saw him in person in last year’s Fall League so my opinion might be getting stale.

  12. Bill Baer

    October 05, 2012 01:58 PM

    @ JT

    I’ll defer to Eric, but Olt had crushed the competition at every level despite being at or slightly under the typical age (e.g. 23 at AA; AA avg. age 24) while playing third base, a position that has dried up at the Major League level. Additionally, Olt was considered to have great defensive skill at third base (source). Ruf can only play first base realistically unless you’re happy with Burrell/Ibanez-esque defense in left.

    As far as I’m concerned, Ruf and Olt aren’t anywhere near comparable in any way, shape, or form.

  13. EricL

    October 05, 2012 02:21 PM

    John Sickels isn’t nearly as morose in his assessment of Ruf:

    www.minorleagueball.com/2012/9/11/3313673/rookie-review-darin-ruf-of-1b-philadelphia-phillies-scouting-report

    And his college coach speaks very highly of his hands:

    www.minorleagueball.com/2012/9/12/3321338/more-thoughts-on-darin-ruf-defense-phillies

    He’s not likely to ever amount to much, and my expectations for him are quite low, but I’m not yet prepared to write his baseball obituary and wish him the best of luck in his long and prosperous career teaching typewriter maintenance at the Rocko Club School for Women.

  14. JT

    October 05, 2012 02:29 PM

    Ruf vs. Olt

    Ruf is almost exactly two years older than Olt but has played only one more year of minor league ball. In 2011 they both played A+, compiling the same OPS, with perhaps a slight power advantage to Olt.

    In 2012, they both played AA, with a slight overall hitting advantage to Ruff. Ruff was also significantly better in the SMS 40 MLB PA’s they both got.

    Their minor league careers are actually pretty similar so far. Granted the two years in age and the ability to play third base well is very big deal.

    I’m just not sure one should be classified as a sought after prospect and the other should be more or less completely dismissed.

    But I’m not a scout — I’m just getting my info off of Baseball Reference and the little I have seen of each on TV — so I do appreciate the inside perspective.

  15. Phylan

    October 05, 2012 02:38 PM

    Sickels is a good source to cite when talking about a player. That player’s college coach is not.

  16. Richard

    October 05, 2012 02:50 PM

    on Ruf & Brown

    It seems to me that Brown saw a wider variety of better pitching in his time up this season, and showed on balance better discipline… Ruf did indeed show great ability (in the few times I saw him!) to crush the low inside pitch. Brown is still within his 18-month window post-hamate injury affecting his power.

    As far as Ruf’s defense goes, I can’t believe his 40.2 UZR/150 in leftfield is being dismissed so easily! :)

  17. EricL

    October 05, 2012 03:02 PM

    Do I get half points for citing Sickels citing Ruf’s college coach?

  18. nik

    October 05, 2012 03:16 PM

    When I see hamate I get hungry for bacon.

  19. KH

    October 05, 2012 03:51 PM

    People involved in baseball intimately are wrong all the time. If I don’t feel an argument is particularly compelling I am not going to buy it if Ted Williams gives me it to me. If being 26 meant it would be easy putting up historic numbers at Double A well there are quite a few 26 year olds, and older, playing in Double A and very few if any putting up a year like Ruf just had. If having a hole in your swing meant you couldn’t produce in the majors again there are tons of guys with holes in there swings that are successful players. Believe it or not pitchers cant throw the ball where they want it every time. If they could no one would get a hit. This isn’t meant as an attack either I am just pointing out how easily countered some of the arguments against Ruf made here are. I just feel that when you put up a year like Ruf did he deserves an extended look by the Phillies. That doesn’t mean starting or anything just not totally written off because he is 26 years old and limited defensively. Although its rare in a aggregate sense there are plenty of examples of guys blossoming relatively late in there development.

  20. Phylan

    October 05, 2012 04:04 PM

    His numbers were extremely good at AA but “historic” is really going overboard.

  21. MG

    October 05, 2012 04:06 PM

    Pitchers will work on spotting a corner at AA largely results be damned? That’s an odd assertion.

    Curious to see the reports of how Ruf does in LF in Venezuelan Winter League ball. If he looks horrendous and struggles with making even routine plays, that probably does really hurt his chances of making the club next year.

  22. Eric Longenhagen

    October 05, 2012 04:44 PM

    Sure, players are often told to avoid using attributes that would dominate at their current level to work on the rest of their game. Ask Gavin Floyd’s curveball.

  23. C

    October 05, 2012 04:54 PM

    How about quoting the scout that said Darin could be a Matt Holliday and actually said he thinks Darin has more potential inleft field than first base? Afterall, that would be good journalism and not pushing your agenda, which is exactly what you are doing talking about every negative you see in his game when there are some positive reviews out there on him, also.

  24. Brady

    October 05, 2012 05:05 PM

    While not completely convinced myself that Ruf belongs in the Bigs, he certainly looks better than the current clean up hitter who likes to whiff just about every time the Phils need a hit. And if I’m not mistaken the Phils made it to and won the championship with Burrell and at least made the playoffs with Ibanez type defenses.

  25. C

    October 05, 2012 05:09 PM

    And don’t even get me started on that video you posted. You talk about small sample sizes and yet you choose ONE swing to make an entire point about him being off balance, etc. Once again, how about taking a good at bat from youtube (and you can find plenty) and posting it so the readers can take what they want from the article and not what your agenda is. Journalism these days isn’t like it used to be…

  26. Eric Longenhagen

    October 05, 2012 05:13 PM

    I’m not a journalist, I was brought here to give an opinion. My opinion, based on my observations and the observations of pro scouts within earshot of me at games, is that Ruf has fatal flaws in his game that, if not corrected, will prevent him from making an impact in the big leagues. At age 26 with his body type, I deem him unlikely to make those adjustments before his physical skills begin to erode.

  27. C

    October 05, 2012 05:23 PM

    Didn’t these same scouts say he would NEVER make it to the big leagues being drafted so far down? He’s already proved those people wrong by making it there. If you ever talked to Darin (which Im sure you haven’t) after a few minutes you’d realize what a hard worker he is and his determination to learn/play LF (you can’t scout heart). If it doesn’t happen, so be it, but let things play out, he won’t even be entering his prime for 2-3 years.

  28. Eric Longenhagen

    October 05, 2012 05:47 PM

    I’d love to talk to Darin about what he’s worked on in the past and what he’s working on to prepare for next season. It’d be fascinating. Do you think that’s something he’d be interested in?

  29. C

    October 05, 2012 06:00 PM

    You’re the scout. You should have access to the players, right? Go into the locker room and talk to him next spring. Im sure he’ll be willing to talk to you. If hes willing to wake up at 7 a.m. to do a interview for sirius radio, Im sure he’ll be willing to talk to a scout that thinks so highly of him.

  30. C

    October 05, 2012 06:08 PM

    And before this goes any further, let me say this…I have no idea how Darin’s career will turn out. Nobody can predict what his career will be, no scout, no fan, no manager. Ive read a lot of negative stuff about him, but there are some positive reports out there, also. I hope he makes it. Hes a humble, down to earth, hard-working, blue collar kid from Nebraska that will give his all every play. I think Philly fans will appreciate that IF he makes it.

  31. C

    October 05, 2012 06:13 PM

    And before this goes any further let me say this…I have no idea what will become of his career. Nobody can predict his career: no fan, no scout, no GM, etc. He has already proven people wrong by making it this far. I’ve read a lot of negative reviews on him (this being one), but there are also positive reviews, also (the scout saying he could be a Matt Holliday being one). But I am rooting for him. Hes a humble, down to earth, hard-working blue collar kid from Nebraska. He will give his all every play (unlike some players on this team) and I think Philly fans will appreciate that IF he makes the team next year.

  32. MG

    October 05, 2012 06:28 PM

    Your saying that Gavin Floyd didn’t use his curveball that much at Reading in ’02? Wasn’t the case.

    Understand your point but I always thought imagine that was generally the exception and not the rule by the time prospects get to AA/AAA. Prospects might be tasked to work on refining a pitch (say using their curveball a bit more than their changeup) but when somebody gets on they also want to get solid results too.

    Curious to see the data or getting insight form the Phils’ minor league coaches to see what they have to say on the matter.

  33. longenhagen

    October 05, 2012 07:09 PM

    Floyd was in Lakewood in ’02 and yes, the Phils had him scrap the curveball early on to work on other stuff.

  34. todd hinklin

    October 05, 2012 07:18 PM

    did u just cover your a**?
    he’ll b fine n Philly…..I’m willing 2 bet, we can find a spot on the field, I’ve loved my Phils since 1983, been fun watchin them play 4 the last few yrs….they’re gonna b ok…..they got the peeps….honestly…..u think they’re n trouble? am i stoopid? talk 2 me..i believe n my dudes…u gonna give up on chase n ryan? seriously?

  35. Cazptain Philadelphia

    October 05, 2012 08:19 PM

    The hole in the swing, and the defensive issues may be true. Go back and read the reports about Ryan Howard when he was still just a minor league phenom. Hole in the swing, can’t field, can’t throw; I can remember the regular Daily News reports about that.
    OK…Howard still has that hole in his swing.
    Maybe a new hitting coach has Ruf standing closer to the plate, so the breaking ball away is a ball. Maybe he has Howard standing farther from the plate, so the ball under his hands is a ball. Maybe a new hitting coach will earn his keep for a change. BTW, hitting guru Manuel was a .197 lifetime hitter.
    I agree with the problem of a small sample size. What sample size is enough? That is, how much more are we going to have to see Brown and Mayberry to find out what we already know, which is, Brown is a lazy person to the core, and Mayberry doesn’t have it? Are we ever going to discover we are wrong about that?
    Being overrated is a quality of a tradeable player. If Ruf isn’t all that (on the basis of a small sample and broad speculation), then get something for him.

  36. MG

    October 05, 2012 09:29 PM

    Meant ’04 and yeah I can understand having a starter pitcher work on developing other pitches in rookie ball/A.

    news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1955&dat=20040601&id=NPIuAAAAIBAJ&sjid=MKIFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1965,111778

    Here is an article by Mike Drago from the Reading Eagle from June ’04 in which Gavin states that he used in changeup in this start but that he hadn’t used it much at all before.

    At that point, Floyd was a 4-seam fastball, curveball, and changeup pitcher. He was working on his changeup and using it when it was effective but still using his curveball frequently.

  37. EDGE

    October 05, 2012 10:12 PM

    If Ruf becomes a decent platoon player or even a right hand bat off the bench, I would call that a victory. You can’t blame fans for getting excited about a guy who came in and hit a few bombs when there was nothing else to get excited about in Philly. Ruf might fizzle out if he doesn’t make the proper adjustments that he will have to make once he starts getting a lot off speed pitches.
    Then again he could make some adjustments and become a decent platoon player. I don’t know how historic that would be, considering he did hit 36 hrs at AA (yea I know he was 26).

  38. smitty

    October 06, 2012 09:40 AM

    Who is to say the Phils didn’t just reward a good soldier and citizen when they called him up and let him play. Who is to say, that despite his many short comings per this article, he isn’t packaged to Rockies for a spare part ??? Who is to say that some other team isn’t willing to take a chance on a guy with this AA power ? Let it go, please. He had a great year playing baseball even if he hit off a batting machine !

  39. Dan K.

    October 06, 2012 09:46 AM

    Well then… Welcome (officially) to Crashburn, Eric. I enjoyed the article, even if it’s not a conclusion that I’d like to hear. But then again, I’m of the opinion that we all should be hedging our bets with Ruf anyways, and apparently that makes me a hater of Ruf.

    Look forward to your next article.

  40. James Kerti

    October 06, 2012 04:35 PM

    “If Ruf were to become a relevant Major Leaguer it would be a historic event.”

    Uh huh.

    “I can’t think of anyone his age at Double-A that became a legitimate major league player.”

    Just among Phillies of the last few years: Matt Stairs. Chris Coste. Carlos Ruiz!

  41. RR

    October 06, 2012 04:47 PM

    23? Whatever.

  42. Eric Longenhagen

    October 06, 2012 04:50 PM

    Stairs got to Double-A at 22 and the majors at 24. Ruiz got to Reading at 24. Chris Coste was an amazing story but isn’t what I’d call a “legitimate major leaguer,” he was a replacement level guy.

  43. Ryan

    October 06, 2012 11:42 PM

    He sounds a lot like a right handed Ryan Howard. Hopefully, he’ll be more successful making adjustments to fix the flaws in his swing.

  44. NavyJoe

    October 07, 2012 01:41 AM

    Ok, be honest guys, how many of you are related to Darrin Ruf?

  45. hk

    October 07, 2012 05:36 AM

    Eric,

    Do you think he hits LHP’s well enough to be a platoon player in the MLB? Ty Wigginton gave the Phils a .771 OPS vs. LHP’s in 150 PA’s this year. Do you think Ruf has the potential to duplicate or improve upon those numbers?

  46. larrylafite

    October 07, 2012 07:59 PM

    mike easler played aaa (120+ games) until he was 27 before being called up.

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