There was concern for Ruiz upon his promotion to Gwinnett after a subpar season in AA last year. He would be the second youngest player in the league, and on the field had never really shown that he deserved a promotion. Ruiz started off with an 0-4 performance in game one, and has from then on been perhaps the biggest surprise in the Braves system this year. Originally acquired for Evan Gattis, Ruiz has positioned himself as the third baseman of the future for Atlanta.
Level: Class AAA - Gwinnett Braves
Position: Third Base
Height/Weight: 6'1" 230 lbs
Born: 5/22/1994 Covina, California
Drafted: 4th Round in 2012 by Houston
Acquired: Trade with Houston in 2014
Bats: Left Throws: Right
28 G; .324/.405/.471; 2 HR; 5 2B; 2 3B; 17 R; 11 RBI; 0 SB; 14 BB; 30 K
The 2016 season has been a breakout season for Ruiz, as he showed up this season in better shape and has shown that on the field. There were concerns about Rio's commitment, as he was out of shape last season and did not perform well at all on the field. He looked truly lost at the plate and were it not for a hot late season run would have finished with a below .600 OPS. The Braves sent him home this offseason, and asked him to get in better shape and work on the aspects of his game that needed work. He came back slimmer, stronger, and better, and the Braves had seen enough to reward him with a promotion. While he has had a seriously high BABIP, he is a clearly superior player to the one that trotted out to Trustmark Park last season. He seems dialed in, shows a great approach at the plate, and most importantly doesn't seem overmatched by his competition. He has begun to pull the ball more and hit with more authority, and has seen his line drive rate skyrocket to an insane 32.86% (17.72% in 2015). That is no accident either, and actually sheds light on the reason for his BABIP being so high. He is hitting rockets all over the place, and those are going to find holes.
The hit tool that had disappeared for Rio last year is back with a vengeance, and has shown higher than ever before. He is hitting every pitch on the barrel and is absolutely crushing older competition. His load is simpler than it was last year, and allows his smooth and simple swing to show out. This has allowed him to turn on fastballs much better than in 2015, and shoot balls into the gap in left center with authority. His pitch recognition and approach are advanced, as he identifies off speed stuff well and can make solid contact with even well located pitches. He maintains a very high OBP even when he is struggling, as his eye at the plate in almost unparalleled in the system (Braxton Davidson has a case). He rarely swings at balls out of the zone, and is able to ambush anything in the zone. Ruiz is never going to be a 30 home run hitter in the major leagues, though he did improve his strength this offseason and possibly knocked his power grade up a tick. He is physically mature though, so don't expect that to go any higher. What he will do is give you around 15 home runs and spray a lot of balls into the gaps for doubles. Because he is more of a line drive hitter, his game power will play slightly lower than his raw, but if he were to start hitting more fly balls he could be a 20 home run guy. He projects as a .275/.360/.440 type hitter, which I would love to have man the third base position in Atlanta.
Hit Tool: 50/60
Raw Power: 55/55
Game Power: 50/50
In losing the baby fat, Ruiz did gain about half a step with the legs. He has actually legged out a couple of triples this year, but I wouldn't expect to see much of that. He is a below average runner, and won't steal bases. His range at third base is ok, though he has made major improvements this season. The biggest thing has been his jumps. He seems to be getting out of the box and out of defensive ready position much quicker than 2015. That will be an important factor to his defensive ceiling.
Speed Tool: 40/40
Rio Ruiz never got high marks for his defensive ability. In fact, in his early minor league career the biggest knock on Ruiz was his ability to stay at third base. For me, I can confidently say that those questions are behind him. He has the athleticism and instincts to play the third base position well, and has improved his jumps and range a good bit as well. Ruiz is sure handed, and can make the spectacular play when needed. He's not a Nolan Arenado, but there is no doubt in my mind that he is a better defender than he is given credit for and will be above average in the Major Leagues. Certainly, he is an upgrade over the like of Chris Johnson and Adonis Garcia. Rio also shows off the arm strength that made him a high school quarterback, and should be able to make any throw asked of him.
I think the concerns about Ruiz's inflated peripherals could be warranted. He is striking out at the highest pace of his career and has that ridiculous .441 BABIP. I still think these things need to be taken with caution though. The line drive rate was mentioned before, but as for strike outs there is a very good chance it is all about adjustment. He has maintained a consistent strikeout rate in his career (19.5, 19.1, 15.2, 19.2), and I don't expect that to change any time soon. He has in his career always closed season strong, which given his current performance will be quite hard. I see that K rate floating down in a more normalized territory in the near future. He hits lefties quite well, (.329 vs RHP, .310 vs LHP), though he is less patient and hits for less power. That's not just a one year sample, he has done that his entire career. I think that Ruiz is back to being the player I thought he was before last season. I personally never gave up, but I could see the concerns and felt they were warranted. He did, however, have to adjust to a completely different team, environment, and league very quickly. Rio Ruiz has impressed me more than any player this season, and has shown me more than enough reason to believe he is a solid starter at third base and will be a key cog in the revival of the Braves.
Overall Grade: 50/55
This swing turned into a triple for Ruiz
If there were a way to embed a slideshow I would
Rio Ruiz shares a handshake with Ozzie Albies after scoring a run
Rio Ruiz takes a moment to let Tyrell Jenkins rest
Rio Ruiz sent this fastball right back up the middle for a base hit. He went 3-3 with a double, a triple, and a walk this night.
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