2014 Phillies Report Card: Darin Ruf
Do you remember 2012? Those glorious days when we hadn’t yet accepted what the Phillies would become? In those days, Darin Ruf was the shining light, the prospect everyone held up as the answer, the heir to Abreu, Werth and Pence as the slugging corner outfielder. That was before everyone realized that “playing well in AA and not having any major league experience” isn’t the same thing as “prospect.”
I’m sorry. I’ll let that go. It’s time.
Ruf exceeded our expectations in 2012 and 2013, and the hope was that he’d become, at least, a decent right-handed bench bat. There’s value in being able to pinch hit in the late innings and be able to draw a walk or at least represent the threat of a home run, even if you can’t do anything else. You don’t go out of your way to find or keep such a player, or get him in the lineup, but if he can do those things and is pre-arbitration, that sort of player will always have a roster spot. Getting even that out of a 20th-rounder out of Creighton is a pretty nice bit of business, and far more than I expected from Ruf as recently as early 2013.
But if the best-case scenario is platoon first baseman, 2014 represented a mild setback, and when your ceiling is as low as Ruf’s, no setback is mild. When I first pulled up Ruf’s Baseball Reference page, I was mildly surprised to see that he only took 117 major league plate appearances in 2014–it seemed like he played more than that. But then you go back and tick off the injuries–a month and a half at the start of the season with a strained oblique muscle, then another month out midseason with a broken wrist, and he never really got going, posting an OPS+ of 99 in those 117 PA. He’s still hitting a lot of line drives, but he also still strikes out a ton, and even on a team with as little to lose as the Phillies, he’ll struggle for playing time.
In short, I believe that Ruf will hit fairly well if he’s healthy and plays a full season. But what incentive do the Phillies have to go out of their way to make him part of their plans? He’s already 28, his career splits aren’t so extreme it make sense to keep him around as a platoon-only guy, and he can only play first base and maybe left field if you can bring yourself not to watch. In the meantime, I know the Phillies aren’t exactly bringing the 1994 Expos through the pipeline, but Domonic Brown and (for now) Ryan Howard are Marlon Byrd are still here, and Maikel Franco, Aaron Altherr and Kelly Dugan are going to start demanding playing time that would have otherwise been earmarked for Ruf. It’s kind of sad, because Ruf seems like a decent enough dude, and he’s already shot the moon in terms of his expectations before his career started. But I feel like we’re beyond it being unlikely that he’ll be a productive player on the next good Phillies team–we know it beyond a reasonable doubt. It was a disappointing year for several reasons, some of which are outside Ruf’s control, and while the Phillies shouldn’t be in any huge hurry to dispose of him, they shouldn’t go out of their way to keep him either.