Lancaster, California —— I feel bad; I’ve observed San Diego Padres pitching prospect Jose Ruiz four times in 2017, and they just so happen to be the four worst outings of his season (his relief appearances on April 17, April 22, May 6, and June 13.) When I’m in attendance, Ruiz struggles with command, leaves balls over the middle of the plate, flattens his fastball in the hitting zone, spins his slider like a cement mixer, and struggles to make it out of each inning.
Ruiz has thrown just 2.2 innings over those four appearances when I’m around, allowing 11 hits, 11 runs (ten earned), and four walks against no strikeouts. When I’m not in attendance, Jose Ruiz is apparently filthy; in his 19 outings in 2017 that I haven’t seen, he’s thrown 21.1 innings, allowing just 13 hits and three runs (three earned) against nine walks and 23 strikeouts. I don’t point this out so much to assert I’m bad luck (though maybe I am!) but more so to contextualize that every ballplayer is more than the sum of any one evaluator’s observations; this is a particularly notable case of that, and a good reminder.
I also bring it up because purely from a conversion perspective—the Padres introduced Jose Ruiz, a former catcher, to the mound late last year—the burly righty is a really good gamble. Yes, he’s raw as hell. And yes, he’s still miles away from a big league bullpen (if he ever gets there) and yet already taking up a 40-man roster spot right now which could be valuable elsewhere. But the San Diego Padres have clearly shown exceptional patience with young guys on their 40-man—and 25-man—rosters to an admirable degree. That bodes well for Jose Ruiz, and so long as I’m not in attendance (!) he’s proving the conversion a shrewd move. Give him some more time to learn how to pitch, and the Padres might just have themselves a legitimate late-inning power pitcher.
What do the San Diego Padres have in Jose Ruiz?
You can’t teach velocity, they say. Sure, you can lift weights and eat spinach and maybe add another few miles per hour on top of your natural ability, but by and large you either throw hard, or you don’t throw hard. Jose Ruiz throws really hard. He’ll sit 93-97 mph with good fastball life when the pitch is down in the zone, and he backs it up with a mid-80s slider for an off-speed look. The slider doesn’t do a ton right now, and his fastball command is wildly variable because of really inconsistent mechanics and release points, but that is stuff you can teach. Give him an opportunity to let loose with raw arm strength, and then hope to channel it well enough to the point where he becomes a productive, more nuanced power reliever. It’ll take time, but developing raw arm strength is worth the patience.
Here’s our latest Jose Ruiz video, a good behind-the-plate look at some of his pitch life from that June 13 outing in Lancaster:
Outcomes aside (he allowed two runs on three hits and a walk in an inning of work), his fastball explodes to the plate, touching 97 mph while sitting 94-95 mph throughout the inning. If (when) he consistently gets that pitch down in the zone, it’ll be filthy. If (when) his mechanics smooth out to a repeatable delivery, he’ll probably work at 97 mph, if not even slightly higher. His arm action is clean and relatively short, like you’d expect from a converted catcher, and he has the body type that screams late-inning power arm. (Listed at 6’1″, 190 lbs.,he’s undoubtedly heavier than that.)
There’s a ways to go on his slider, which more often than not (again, in my apparently unlucky viewings!) is more of a spinner than a breaker. He controls it in the zone well, though, which suggests to me that he’s got some feel for the pitch already. Once he learns to manipulate it better for late break, there’s no reason it couldn’t be a decent strikeout pitch. And not for nothing, in that June 13 outing, he induced a weak pop-out from Colorado Rockies top prospect Brendan Rodgers. Virtually no one has gotten Brendan Rodgers out in 2017.
Credit to Jose Ruiz!
Look, chances are Ruiz washes out of baseball well before he reaches San Diego, or if he’s lucky he’ll get a handful of appearances out of the Padres’ bullpen at Petco Park before fizzling out as a Triple-A nobody. Such is the case for many hard-throwing relievers, and an unrefined arm like Ruiz will face an even more difficult battle by the time he reaches the upper minors.
But the Padres have a decent track record of converting position players to the mound, and there’s absolutely no risk in trying Ruiz there now, too. He was a career .203/.239/.249/.488 hitter in 271 games behind the plate, for goodness’ sake. He can only improve in this role.
Just so long as I’m not in attendance, apparently…
San Diego Padres RHP Jose Ruiz — More Scouting Video
Here are a few good looks at Ruiz’s mechanics from a couple of those outings earlier this spring:
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