After the Astros traded for Colin Moran last year, it would be easy to consider Rio Ruiz to be a bit of a forgotten man on the depth chart. After all, the fourth round selection in 2012 was never really considered to be one of the Astros top prospects, despite his improvement as he progressed through the system. Yet, that should no longer be the case.
Ruiz put together an excellent 2014 for the Lancaster JetHawks in the California League, posting a .293/.387/.436 batting line with eleven home runs and 37 doubles. Even more impressive was his plate discipline, as Ruiz walked 82 times in 602 plate appearances last season. It certainly appeared as though Ruiz had taken the next step to move up the prospect lists.
That performance was impressive enough for Rio Ruiz to be sent to the Arizona Fall League, which is typically a showcase of each team’s top prospects. Although his batting line is a bit disappointing at .235/.359/.275, with only two doubles for his extra base hits, Ruiz is still showing impressive plate discipline. Look at that on base percentage again – .359. In his 62 plate appearances, Ruiz has walked an amazing 11 times.
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Of course, these walks could also be a bit of a warning sign. Is Ruiz being a bit too passive at the plate, looking for the perfect pitch and not offering otherwise? Is he, instead of trying to drive the ball, taking the concept of working the count and drawing walks, so prevalent in the Moneyball mindset, too far?
Based on his regular season performance, that certainly does not appear to be the case. Rio Ruiz had been taking walks, but that he was typically not taking strikes. Last year, Ruiz only struck out looking 17 times in his 602 plate appearances, or 2.8% of the time. The average for the California League last year was 4.9%. If Ruiz was to take a pitch, it was not likely to be a strike.
The 2015 season may answer a lot of questions for Rio Ruiz, and whether or not he can be an impact player for the Astros at the major league level. If he can continue his improvement at each stop along the way, 2015 could be a breakout year, and cement his place among the top prospects for the Astros.