Before the 2012 season, few outside the Phillies organization had even heard of Ruf. At 26, he was too old to be considered a prospect and was a guy more likely to go the way of a Chris Coste or an Erik Kratz as a career minor leaguer. But Ruf had other plans and after one stellar season in Reading, hit his way onto the Phillies’ radar.
Ruf batted .317 last season for the Phillies’ AA Affiliate, logging 139 games and 489 at-bats, all at first base.
The former Creighton Blue Jay, selected in the 20th round of the 2009 draft, hadn’t really been known for his power in the minor leagues. In fact, it wasn’t until he reached Clearwater in 2011, that Ruf had his first double-digit home run season.
And then at Reading, Ruf’s power seemed to appear almost magically. He hit a career-high 38 home runs, one more than Phillies’ current first baseman Ryan Howard‘s former franchise-high of 37. Ruf was named the EAS Rookie of the Year and MVP, as well as a Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star.
Perhaps the best recognition however, came in the form of a September call-up to the Phillies. In 12 games in the majors, Ruf received 33 at-bats, hit two doubles, a triple, three home runs and notched 10 RBIs. He batted .333 with an OPS of 1.078.
The numbers were great and assured Ruf would at least receive a spring training invite with a real shot to make the team out of camp.
The only problem?
Ruf was and is a natural first baseman and just like Howard was blocked by Jim Thome before him, Ruf isn’t going anywhere near that bag as long as Howard is still contracted with the team.
But he is a right-handed bat that can hit for average and more importantly hits for power. Since the days of Jayson Werth and Pat Burrell before him, the Phillies haven’t really had this presence in their line-up. So even though first base was blocked, Philadelphia did not want to lose Ruf’s bat.
As a result, the Phillies entered spring training with six guys on the roster competing for five outfield spots (two starting, three on the bench). Ruf was one of those guys.
While his defense was not deplorable, it was clear that the young Ruf is still getting used to the new position. Over the course of the spring, he misplayed routine fly balls, failed to execute relatively simple plays and struggled with some of the most basic route running. Meanwhile, Domonic Brown lit up camp, making the decision to demote Ruf back to the minors a lot easier.
Now Ruf’s bat hasn’t gone away. While it did take him a little time to figure things out this spring, the righty did manage to heat up a bit in mid to late March, recording six RBIs, five doubles and two home runs in that time.
For the Phillies, this now presents a serious question: If Ruf can still hit, what is his trade value as an American League 1B or DH?
While no one in the organization is hesitant to trade Ruf at this moment, it has certainly got to be something on the minds of Ruben Amaro and company. After allm why keep a guy who is never going to get playing time?
Because of his bat, Ruf is going to be very attractive to American League teams, especially when it comes time for the trade deadline. Teams in the hunt are always looking for a power hitter and Ruf fits that billing. Will the Phillies part with him?
Now that is another question. Amaro has been of the philosophy of winning now and mortgaging the future, and has traded away his fair share of up-and-coming prospects to do so. Ultimately, Amaro’s decision will probably depend on the haul. If he can get something decent in return for Ruf, it makes a lot of sense to trade him.
But then again, maybe Ruf just needs more repetitions. Maybe he can and will learn how to be a decent major league outfielder in a few years. If this turns out to be the case, does Amaro really want to be the guy that traded away yet another future star?