I know that Gary Sanchez is already nicknamed “The Kraken” so my apologies for the lack of imagination in this regard. It’s just that I believe that the real player worthy of being compared to the Scandinavian creature of wonder is not playing in pinstripes, but waiting for his chance to strike while proving it with the Rochester Red Wings (AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals).
The funny part of it is that there are other prospects around who seem to be more worthy of exaggerated aliases; the likes of Bobby Witt Jr., Wander Franco, or Julio Rodríguez are more resounding names, and while Keibert Ruiz is anything but an unknown, he certainly seems to lack the “star power” of the others.
But that’s the thing about The Kraken: It lurks deep in the ocean, quietly preparing for a future where it rushes over the unwary with a thunderous tour de force. Ruiz has been lurking for long enough, and he’s ready to storm his way in MLB.
Let’s check the reasons why the Nationals should set him loose as soon as possible.
He is Disciplined
During his minor leagues’ career (since 2015), Ruiz has only struck out in 9.8% of his plate appearances. During that time frame, the average K% in AAA was 20.5% for qualified hitters—more than double Ruiz’s rate. Meanwhile, his 7.0 BB% was very close to the 9.0% average. These two stats are reflected in Ruiz’s batting average of .300, making him a distinctive contact hitter.
Being disciplined doesn’t mean he is passive, on the contrary, he swings a lot. But even doing that, he manages to strike out very few times by making a lot of contact with those swings.
Almost exactly a year ago, in August 2020, Ruiz was called up for the first time by the Dodgers. He showed some flashes of his good eye, as we can see in this 6-pitch sequence in which, even resulting in a swinging strikeout, he protected his zone and was almost successful avoiding chasing.
This plate appearance was one of his first ever facing MLB pitching and Ruiz handled it like a seasoned player, beyond the final result. Remember folks, this was on his first day as a big leaguer.
He has New-Found Power
One concern with Ruiz has always been an apparent lack of power to go with all that contact, but things seem to be changing.
Before this season, Ruiz had connected 47 HR in 2831 plate appearances (685 games) for a frequency of one homer every 60.23 plate appearances; this year in AAA, he has 17 HR in 280 PA (64 games) for an amazing rate of one HR every 16.47 PA. That puts him closer to Shohei Ohtani (12 PA/HR) than his Juan Pierre-like previous numbers, for sure. This is an extremely good turn of events because of the mentioned concern on his longball capability and adds the best possible layer of appeal to an already highly regarded prospect in a premium position.
By the way, Ruiz keeps rolling, as seen here, homering as a new Nats prospect in AAA:
Who is Going to Catch?
The Nats are using notorious sluggers Tres Barreras and Riley Adams as their main options behind the plate. Yes, those guys, sporting lines of .244/.344/.346 and .222/.300/.407 respectively, are supposedly the best they can do on that front. There is also Alex Avila but he is on the IL.
If there are concerns on the way Ruiz might work with pitchers, leading them through the game, Jesse Dougherty has a nice piece on Ruiz and all the efforts he’s put together to continuously improve his duties as a catcher:
He is a whiz with TruMedia, an advanced analytics website, and spent Tuesday stuffing his brain with info on the Syracuse Mets…“Next steps for me? Get better at working with the pitchers, with my preparation, all of that,” Ruiz said. “Getting them to trust me and what I’m seeing, what I think. I’ll get there.”
So, maybe he’s not 100% there, as expected from a rookie, but he is continually improving and doing the things he needs to do in this stage of his career to get better.
Also, did I mention the Nats’ other options?
He is Great All-Around
Now I just want to share a couple of summary charts, in which we can see how he ranks in some stats in the minors; Ruiz has the track record to back his reputation.
First, his rankings among other fellow catchers in AAA:
No doubt he is an all-around premium player at the position. Now, what about against other position players?
As you can see, he is a top 25 overall player—even top 5 and 10 in some stats.
The Nats being out of playoff contention and the practice of service-time manipulation are the biggest obstacles Ruiz is facing against his everyday playing possibilities, and those are not minor issues, I concede. I still believe keeping him restrained in the minors is a big mistake as he has nothing to prove there and he would benefit the most with more challenging situations at the highest level.
As September approaches, there is the chance he will get another shot to be with the big team, so if you have the available roster space in your leagues, it might be good to stash him as he is immediately playable and will have an impact from day one.
Photo by Beth MacDonald/Unsplash | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)