Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Carlos Ruiz's Performance Is Giving Philadelphia Flexibility

Carlos Ruiz’s career stats aren’t that impressive.

He’s hit 15 home runs and is batting only .249. Yet since the 2008 World Series, Ruiz has really raised his level of performance, and by doing so, has given the Phillies flexibility at the catcher position as well as for other roster spots.

In game three of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays Ruiz hit a home run and also hit the walk-off single. His series average was an astonishing .375, second only to Jayson Werth among the starters.

While fans were jubilant about the championship, and pleased with Ruiz’s play, they still figured his time was limited. Top 10 prospect Lou Marson was waiting in the wings and his potential is much greater than Ruiz’s.

In Marson’s first game as a Phillie in September, 2008, he went 2-4 with a home run and two RBI. Baseball America also considers him as the team’s best defensive catching prospect.

Marson’s ability on both offense and defense left Ruiz’s future with the team, at least as a starter, in question. Still, Ruiz again won the job in spring training and has since been one of the Phillies’ most consistent performers.

Ruiz is hitting .305, good for second on the team—behind Raul Ibanez— and better than All-Star Chase Utley. His defense has also been much improved. He’s gotten much better at blocking the plate, preventing runs, and has thrown out 10 of 22 base runners attempting to steal.

Also helping Ruiz’s case are the performances from the Phillies other minor league catching prospects.

Travis D’Arnaud—with low A club Lakewood Blueclaws— is rated as the seventh best Phillies prospect by Baseball America. This season he has hit seven home runs and has a .363 slugging percentage.

Joel Naughton has hit six home runs for the high A club Clearwater Threshers. Tim Kennelly, also on the Threshers, is second on the team in both batting average (.304) and RBI (29). Tuffy Gosewisch, playing for AA affiliate Reading Phillies, has been invited to the major league spring training the past two seasons.

What does all this mean?

Well currently, the Phillies starting rotation is in dire need of help.

Most recently, Brett Myers was put on the 15-day DL and is expected to undergo season-ending hip surgery.

Cole Hamels has battled through a number of minor injuries early in the season, and his poor injury history raises concern for the team’s ace.

Jamie Moyer, at 46 years old, has lost the magic he pitched with last year and looks like he is finally at the end of his career.

Joe Blanton, though he has pitched well his past few starts, still has an ERA of 5.86.

Chan Ho Park was ineffective as a starter before being banished to the bullpen.

J.A. Happ, Antonio Bastardo, Andrew Carpenter and Carlos Carrasco are all still too young and inexperienced to rely on, and Kyle Kendrick is still getting his form back together in AAA after faltering for Philadelphia down the stretch last season.

If the Phillies plan to contend and defend their title as the season drags on, they need to go get another starter. Having another effective starter will also help rest the bullpen, keeping them fresh throughout the season rather than overworked.

Grabbing an average starter from another team isn’t enough either. The Phillies have a slew of average pitchers right now. They need to go out and get a legitimate number one or two starter. They don’t come cheap though.

This is where Ruiz’s great play comes in. With his standout play behind home plate stretching from last season’s World Series and the depth of the position in the minors, Lou Marson, once thought to be untouchable, now becomes expendable.
Marson can be packaged with a few other prospects in order to get any of the top-line pitchers that could be on the market (Jake Peavy, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt’s names have all been mentioned this season).

While it would not be ideal to let Marson go, you have to give something to get something. With the afore-mentioned pitchers, you know you will be getting something of value in return for a top prospect, unlike in past seasons, when the Phillies acquired average pitchers with question marks in their games, like Kyle Lohse and Joe Blanton.

Ruiz’s breakout play this season now gives the team flexibility they did not have. Ruiz has more than done enough to earn the starting catcher job. This would allow the Phillies to package any of their top catching prospects, including Marson, for a top of the line pitcher without worrying about jeopardizing the position now or in the long run.

If they do trade Marson, the Phillies can be confident that Ruiz will man the fort while the other prospects take their time to develop.

If they don’t trade Marson, then the organization will face a difficult decision in the near future, because Ruiz is proving he is an everyday catcher.

Photo Credits.
Left: AP Photo/ Al Behrman
Right: AP Photo/ Kathy Willens

No comments:

Post a Comment