Rio Ruiz saw a brief opportunity to stake his claim for the Braves’ third base job but struggled in his limited opportunity. 2018 will be an important year for Ruiz to reestablish himself in the big picture for Atlanta.
What were the expectations?
The expectation for Rio Ruiz was that he would get a shot at proving he was a capable third base option, even if it was in a platoon situation. However, his results overall were lukewarm at best, and kind of terrifying at worst.
Ruiz began the season at Triple-A but was promoted to the majors in the middle of May. He would remain in the big leagues in a part-time role for about a month but simply didn’t hit enough to warrant regular inclusion into the lineup. Through 31 games, which also included 21 starts, Ruiz hit just .175/.264/.288 with three doubles and two home runs. While he recorded a low BABIP of .222 during that span, it just wasn’t enough to keep him on the field on a regular basis and the Braves returned him to Triple-A.
Ruiz fared much better in the minors posting a wRC+ of 112 in 103 games. He hit .247/.322/.446 to go along with 16 home runs at 25 doubles while at Gwinnett.
Ruiz returned to the majors as rosters expanded in September but again failed to gain much traction posting a .214/.305/.329 line over 22 games of the final month.
Ruiz had one very weird issue: his swing plane was basically geared to not result in base hits, as strange as that seems. His 13.4% line drive rate is essentially a bottom-50 stat among all player-seasons with 200 or more PAs since 2002. His 56.3% grounder percentage is a top-200 stat among those player-seasons, making it about a 95th-percentile outcome. No line drives and mostly groundballs is not a way to succeed in MLB. Note that these were actually worse, at 10.7% and 66.1%, respectively, before his first demotion in June. 10.7% is nearly the worst line drive rate for any partial season since the data have been collected, and the worst since 2010. In September, he seemed to start correcting it somewhat, with a low-but-still-livable line drive rate around 17%. Maybe if he corrects it further, he’ll be able to provide value with his bat; after all, his liner rate in AAA has been in the 20%s, so perfectly reasonable. But that’s a hurdle he’s going to have to clear to deliver any major league value.
Barring a move to solidify the third base position this offseason, Ruiz will go to spring training in hopes of entering the picture for the Braves at third base. A platoon situation with Johan Camargo at third would seem ideal but Ruiz didn’t have a lot of success against right handed pitching at the major league level.
Ruiz will turn 24 in May and doesn’t really have much more to prove at the Triple-A level. So far he has looked like a Four-A player. He will need to clear that hurdle this season if he wants to stick with the Braves.