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.