Darin Ruf, First Baseman/Outfielder, Philadelphia Phillies
2013 season (minors): 83 G, 305 AB, .266 BA, 7 HR, 46 RBI, 1 SB, .749 OPS
2013 season (majors): 72 G, 251 AB, .247 BA, 14 HR, 30 RBI, 0 SB, .806 OPS
When you look at the Philadelphia Phillies’ projected lineup for 2014, it’s tough to find a spot for young corner outfielder and first baseman Darin Ruf. At first glance you’d have him behind Domonic Brown in left field, Marlon Byrd in right field and Ryan Howard at first base. But a close look at Ruf’s numbers at the plate throughout his young career reveals that the Phillies would be wise to get his bat into the lineup.
One could argue that despite playing in just 72 games for the Phillies last season, Ruf was one the team’s best hitters. His .354 wOBA (weighted on base average) was second only to Chase Utley’s (.356). He mashed 14 home runs and had a .348 OBP in 72 games filling in for Howard at first base after the veteran’s season ended in early July.
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Ruf has serious power. In 2011 at High-A Clearwater, he hit 17 home runs and drove in 82 runs with a .308/.388/.506 slash line (BA/OBP/SLG). In 2012 he was promoted to Double-A, where he broke out with a ridiculous 38 home runs, 104 RBI and .317/.408/.620 line. He even got a quick look with the Phillies at the end of the year and had no trouble hitting big-league pitchers with three home runs, 10 RBIs and a 1.079 OPS in 12 games.
Ruf started last season at Triple-A, and while the power wasn’t quite at the same level, he still managed a respectable .749 OPS in 83 games before the Phils called him up. He put his “down” season at Triple-A behind him to become one of Philly’s most consistent hitters down the stretch.
Now to the conundrum of where to put him. Ruf would ideally be a first baseman in the bigs, as he isn’t a very good outfielder. But the Phillies are paying the 34-year-old Howard — who is signed through 2017 — a whopping $25 million this year. A platoon could work; Howard is a lefty who has hit 234 of his 311 career home runs off right-handers. Ruf is a righty who mashed left-handers throughout his minor-league career. (Ruf’s 2013 splits show he was actually better against right-handers, but that was an anomaly.)
So why not platoon? Well, Howard’s pride and contract are in the way. It’s not easy to tell a hitter with over 300 career home runs, who you owe over $100 million, that he’s going to sit against lefties. Nor does it look good for a team to have a $100 million platoon man.
Outfield is the other option for Ruf. But Brown is a former top prospect who finally broke out in 2013, so he’s going to get the look in left. And the team signed Byrd to play right field this season. For now, Ruf will likely either start the season at Triple-A or on the Phillies’ bench. Given Howard’s recent injury issues (just 151 games played the last two seasons), expect Ruf to get plenty of big-league at-bats this season. As long as he continues to hit like he has, he’ll force the Phillies’ hand.
Next up: Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins