Every year, throughout the MLB, there is that one guy who scouts, executives, and talent evaluators scratch their heads about; a player who puts up monstrous minor league numbers, but whom they don’t remember their club passing on in any recent drafts. This season, it’s first baseman Darin Ruf of the Reading Phillies.
Un-drafted until his senior season at Creighton, Ruf has a baseball resume that combines success, consistency and a winning attitude; finding all three of those in a player is much harder in today’s game than it was 20 years ago. The issue, however, that always blockaded Ruf’s transition from college to professional success was that scouts have always labored over whether his ability and skill set would translate to the next level.
He started every game of his 4-year college career at Creighton, putting up solid, consistent numbers against what many saw as mediocre college competition. His sophomore season at Creighton was the strongest, when he batted .374 with 8 HRs and 57 RBIs in 61 games. The combination of playing in a weak conference, having solid but not stellar numbers, and being a 6-3, 220 pound guy who could likely only play first base made Ruf an unlikely name to see in the MLB once he made it to the minor league ranks. Even within the Phillies organization, it is safe to assume many saw him as no more than organizational depth, a guy who could fill a minor league roster spot.
Baseball is different than many other sports, in that the most important aspects of whether a player can play at the next level are determined by two factors: projection and ceiling. Scouts do not go by what they see generally, but what they can envision if “their organization” can develop them properly over time. Sure, there is the occasional Bryce Harpers or Mike Trout who has “can’t miss talent” from the get-go, but scouts are generally forced to choose the amount of growth they see a player having after they’ve developed and refined their skills. Athleticism and versatility are virtual gold mines to scouts, two things that Darin Ruf isn’t necessarily known for. In Ruf’s case, he was a good baseball player with a baseball IQ who, through hard work and determination, continued to master hitting until he’d surpassed all expectations.
His age seems to be the biggest problem people have, but don’t let it be the determining factor on him. Ruf is not a 26-year old drafted at 18 who has labored through long bus rides, cheap motels and crappy beer for the last 8 years. He was a 4-year college player who is in his 4th year of minor league ball on a fairly average ascension through the ranks. His eye-popping season in Double A is nothing short of spectacular and is simply the continued progression of a player who has grown as a baseball player every year since joining the Phillies’ organization.
In 132 games, Ruf is batting .317 with an astounding .408 OBP/.622 SLG/ 1.030 OPS line. He has 36 homers and 96 runs batted in in only 423 at bats, and is challenging for the Eastern League Triple Crown—he’s first in both HRs and RBIs but third in batting average. And unsurprisingly, Ruf is challenging fellow Phillie Ryan Howard (37) for the most home runs in an Eastern League season. He has seven games to either tie or pass Howard as the league’s most potent single-season power hitter.
The Phillies have also begun to play Ruf in the outfield, yielding surprisingly good results. Ruf does not have the strongest arm or the best speed, but his instincts are said to be very good and he looks like a little fine tuning could make him an outfield option down the road. Bottom line: Those same scouts who didn’t even recognize his name five months ago are starting to take notice in a big way.
Whether Darin Ruf is just a guy having his career year or a prospect who is a late bloomer with major league potential remains to be seen. What is not in question, however, is whether a 26-year old Double-A player with Triple Crown batting numbers warrants attention from the head honchos around baseball. Ruf is by all accounts a smart, fundamentally-sound baseball player who’s work ethic and drive to get better is second to none. Those close to Reading have nothing but positive remarks about Ruf—even his teammates, who call him “Babe” Ruf—and think this season is a sign of more to come.
Reading manager Dusty Wathan said of Ruf, “He’s a very professional guy. He’s level headed, whether he goes 0-for-4, 4-for-4, hits a couple homers or struggles, which I think is a huge asset of his.”
A professional, hard-working attitude who has baseball instincts, a will to win and a lot of power. I can think of an organization about an hour east of Reading which is lacking in those areas. It’s time to pay attention, Ruben Amaro.
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