The best predictor of future success is past success and, if the two minor-league careers of Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf are any indication, fans of the Philadelphia Phillies will not see a huge drop-off should Ruf play up to his established minor-league numbers.
Howard, at 6-foot-4, and a hefty 240 pounds, went to the disabled list on Saturday with left-knee inflammation and Ruf was called up from nearby Allentown (Pa.). While neither player completed a single full season in Triple-A, both had full Double-A seasons in the same town playing for the Reading (Pa.) Phillies.
Ruf, at an inch shorter and 20 pounds lighter, was every bit the Double-A player Howard was and more. Howard’s season in Reading was very impressive: 37 home runs, 107 RBIs and a .297 batting average. At Reading, Ruf broke Howard’s franchise home run record with 38 and added 104 RBIs with a .317 batting average.
Ruf and Howard are similar players, with the key exception being that Ruf hits from the left side of the plate. Since the Phillies are top-heavy on left-handed hitting (key hitters Chase Utley and Domonic Brown are both lefties), Ruf’s could provide a natural left/right balance in the batting order that did not exist previously.
The Phillies tried to shoe-horn Ruf’s power into the lineup in spring training, but Ruf found the defensive part of playing left field, err, rough and was sent down to the minors to hone skills with the glove. Ruf, though, has never had a problem fielding his position at first base.
Now Ruf is no longer blocked by Howard at first base and how he does over the next month (or more) could determine both his and the Phillies’ long-term future.
It’s no secret that the Phillies would like to jettison at least part of that $125 million Howard contract and even if Howard comes back at as a semblance of his old self, keeping Ruf would be the more economical option. The Phillies might even be willing to eat part of Howard’s contract to ship him to, say, an AL team (who might see his value as a designated hitter).
That, though, is a lot of Howard healing and a lot of Ruf hitting away. Judging by where they’ve been and what they’ve done, the numbers suggest that Ruf is more than up to it.