Every year, throughout Professional Baseball, there is that one guy who scouts, executives, and talent evaluators scratch their heads about. A player who puts up monsterous numbers, yet they don’t remember their club passing on him in any recent drafts. This season, that’s Darin Ruf of the Reading Phillies. Undrafted until his senior season at Creighton, Ruf has a baseball resume that combines success, consistency and a winning attitude; that is impressive. The problem is that scouts have always labored over whether his ability and tools 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, batting .374 with 8 HR’s and 57 RBI’s 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, many saw him as being able only to play first base. These stigmas made Ruf an unlikely name to see in Major League Baseball 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 an organization stuffer who could fill a 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. Factors; which are not fault proof by any means; projection and ceiling. Scouts do not go by what they see generally, but what they can envision if “their organization” can work with a player, develop, and create into a Major League player. Sure, there are the Bryce Harpers’ and Mike Trouts’ who have “can’t miss talent”, but generally scouts are choosing the amount of growth they see a player having after they develop and refine their skills. Athleticism and versatility are virtual gold mines to scouts, two things which are questioned in Darin Ruf’s toolbox of talent. In Ruf’s case, he was a good baseball player, with a high understanding of baseball who continued to master hitting past what scouts thought was his “ceiling.”
The age of Darin Ruf seems to be the biggest problem people have, but don’t let it be the determining factor on him. He 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 just the continued progression of a player who has grown as a baseball player every year since joining the Phillies Organization. Ruf is batting .312 with an .402 OBP/.591 SLG/ .993 OPS. He has 29 HR’s and 83 RBI’s in 423 at bats, and is challenging for the Eastern League Triple Crown. 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 with a little fine tuning, he could become an outfield option down the road. Bottom line is those same scouts who didn’t even recognize his name are starting to take notice.
Whether Darin Ruf is just a guy who is having his career year or a guy who is a late bloomer with major league production potential, it all remains to be seen. What is not in question is whether it is warranted to actually pay attention to a 26 year old in AA putting up Triple Crown numbers, because it is. Ruf by all accounts is a smart, instinctive, 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, 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 and a lot of power. I can think of an organization about an hour east which lacks in those areas. It’s time to pay attention.