Carlos Ruiz: How Does The Phillies’ Catcher Fit Into Team’s Plans For Future?

Howard Smith – US PRESSWIRE

It’s difficult to imagine another catcher other than Carlos Ruiz as a regular for the Philadelphia Phillies.

That may prove to be the case after 2013 though, as Chooch is entering what very well could be his final year with the team.

Ruiz had signed a three-year, $8.85 million contract before the 2010 season with an option for 2013. The Phillies have picked up the option but the team has still not made an offer to Ruiz for beyond next season.

That’s partly because Ruiz will be 34 by next season, but with the year he just had, the Phillies should try to keep him. Ruiz batted .325 with a career-high 16 home runs and 68 RBIs in just 421 plate appearances. His .540 slugging percentage and .935 OPS were far and away career bests, and it’s a tribute to the improvement Ruiz has shown at the plate since he got called up in 2006.

Ruiz batted as low as .219 for the World Series champion team in 2008, then picked that up to .255 in 2009 and .302 in 2010. Ruiz slipped back down to .283 in 2011 but posted an all-time best .325 mark in ’12, a figure that ranks tied for seventh-best in the league among players with at least 400 plate appearances.

Other aspects of Ruiz’s evolution as a hitter are his line drive percentage – after hitting line drives in 16.8 percent of his plate appearances in 2008, that total spiked to 18.7 in 2009, 20.1 in 2010, 21.0 in 2011, and an astounding 24.0 percent in 2012. His infield fly ball rate has declined as well, showing he’s meeting the ball more squarely with the bat on a constant rate.

Ruiz is well-known for his impressive ability to handle the pitching staff, and he’s excelled over the years at catching all kinds of pitches – Roy Halladay’s wide array of pitches, Cole Hamels’ changeup, and Brad Lidge’s devastating slider.

Ruiz is solid defensively, although he’s not terrific. He actually tied for his career high in errors (6) in 2012 although his arm was an all-time best – he threw out 34 percent of would-be base stealers this past season.

Ruiz will probably even get some MVP votes for his stellar campaign, and that’s because he really came through for a Phillies lineup that was depleted by injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, as well as trades that sent Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence away in late July.

Ruiz – who batted eighth all year in 2008 – hit cleanup for 32 games and fifth for another 32 games. He thrived in the cleanup spot, batting .365 there with a .587 slugging percentage and 1.008 OPS in 138 plate appearances. If the Phillies don’t acquire a big right-handed power bat in the offseason, the organization may want Ruiz to bat fourth in the lineup to split up Utley and Howard.

Whether Ruiz returns to the team in 2014 remains to be seen.

The Phillies have two intriguing catching prospects in their system – Sebastian Valle and Tommy Joseph. Valle is a 22-year old catcher who has been seen by many to be the catcher of the future.

He was promoted to Triple-A when the Phillies acquired Joseph, and he has continued his steady climb up the organization with his sixth level in six professional seasons.

Valle batted .261 with 13 home runs and 45 RBIs for the Reading Phillies in 2012, then hit just .218 with a .629 OPS in 82 plate appearances for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs after he got promoted. He has some serious flaws in his game – he draws an extremely low percentage of walks, he strikes out too many times, and he has no speed.

He plays solid defense, having thrown out 29 percent of potential base stealers at the Double-A level, although the 13 percent he threw out in Triple-A is a ridiculously low total.

It’s likely that Valle’s performance in the first half of ’13 will affect whether the Phillies offer Ruiz a small extension. If he tears it up and appears ready for a promotion, the Phillies may allow Ruiz to walk.

Realistically though, I suspect the Phillies give Ruiz a two-year extension sometime early in 2013 to keep him through 2014 with an option for 2015.

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