While he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, Rio Noble Ruiz was paid a well above slot $1.85 million to forego college and sign with the Houston Astros. Rated a potential first round talent, Ruiz dropped in the draft due to bonus demands and a blood clot in his neck that required surgery and prematurely ended his senior season. Ruiz was a multisport athlete in high school before a sprained knee left him sidelined in football. He was also a two-way player in baseball, touching 95 MPH from the mound. But the Astros were swayed but his beautiful swing, and he's begun his career as a third baseman.
Due to the new CBA, Ruiz was able to sign quickly and get some experience in the 2012 season, accruing 135 at-bats between the Gulf Coast League and the Appalachian League (both are rookie level). In those stops, Ruiz batted a combined .252/.336/.400, not blowing the door off it's hinges but certainly reasonable for an 18-year old in his first taste of pro ball. Thus far, 2013 hasn't produced any improvement on those numbers, actually seeing a decrease (almost) across the board (his OBP is the same). I feel like this has been a refrain for me this year, but it's important to be patient with someone as young as Ruiz, and especially with someone with Ruiz's pedigree. It's also important to know that of his 281 plate appearances, a mere 12 have come against pitchers who are younger than he is. Another item worth noting is that, while the numbers aren't exactly pretty, he's recovered from a brutal start to see a bump in production every month this season, leading up to his current .319/.362/.462 in July (only 26 at-bats). Obviously his July stats aren't worth fawning over given the small sample size, but his last 28 days sees his slash line sitting at .288/.370/.438 as a 19-year old in Lo-A. The other thing Ruiz can hang his hat on thus far is a 13.2% walk rate. That's a fantastic rate for a player as young as Ruiz is, and while it's balanced somewhat by a strikeout rate of 20.3% without the corresponding power that you might expect, I expect the power to come in time and the approach at the plate to remain consistent.
The thing that drew the Astros to Ruiz was his sweet swing. He has strong hands and uses them well, creating a terrific swing path that gives him plus hit and power potential. At the Baseball Prospectus event Jason Parks was discussing the Hickory Crawdads outfield, and when talking about Nick Williams he said "hitters just know how to hit." I think that applies to Ruiz as well, as he has a knack for barreling the ball on the bat and is just a natural with the bat in his hands. When it comes to the field Ruiz is smooth at the hot corner and has that plus arm I talked about in the introduction. He shouldn't have an trouble sticking at third base due to his soft hands and good athleticism, which should allow him to be a valuable option for fantasy owners given the general paucity of talent at the position.
While Ruiz hasn't been overly impressive with his production throughout his career, his career has just gotten started, and given his age relative to his level, it's not nearly as bad as it looks. I really like the skillset that Ruiz brings to the table and the potential pluses that scouts hang on both his hit and power tools. Even if he doesn't max out on his potential, he should still remain a valuable asset because of his positional value. He's not a premier prospect by any means, but he should be a steady investment for fantasy owners.