When Jose Ruiz was a 16-year-old prospect, major league scouts became familiar with the flight patterns around Caracas, Venezuela. The San Diego Padres racked up the frequent flier miles and cashed them out to sign the star catcher – to the tune of $1.1 million.
They believe it was money well spent. When Ruiz signed, he was considered the best Latin American catcher. His 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame is desirable, as is his worthy defense and offensive power.
“The organization is high on Ruiz,” first-year TinCaps manager Francisco Morales said, “and they’re also on (Miguel) Del Castillo. We’re going to start with Ruiz and see what happens down the road. Del Castillo is not far behind.”
In three minor league seasons, Ruiz has a .191 batting average – he’s had more strikeouts than hits in each season – but he’s caught 34 percent of base stealers.
Ruiz, 20, has been clocked throwing to second base off a pitch in 1.94 seconds. That cannon, combined with game managing skills and footwork, is his ticket to The Show.
“I feel good,” Ruiz said through an interpreter. “I’m trying to do my best calling games, blocking balls and catching. I just want to help the pitchers as much as I can.”
There’s still a feeling out process for pitchers and catchers. Ruiz and Del Castillo haven’t caught all the hurlers but plan to fast track the chemistry.
A friendship that dates to 2011 and the Dominican Republic hasn’t fractured because of competition. If anything, it’s grown stronger.
For Ruiz, pointers at the plate would be appreciated. He spent a bulk of the spring with hitting coaches trying to find a cure for his inconsistent bat. The extended attention could impact the TinCaps’ fortunes.
“I feel better at the plate,” he said. “As soon as I got to Arizona, I started working with coaches to improve. I feel the best I ever have (hitting).”
Manufacturing hits, moving base runners and blending offense with his defense would raise the possibility of Ruiz moving on to Lake Elsinore and beyond.
Whatever is in store for him, he’ll take it in stride.
“My goal is to play hard every night,” Ruiz said. “I just want to control what I can control. If I play hard, it’ll all work out.”