By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When you talk about top prospects in the higher levels of the Phillies minor league system, most of the discussion focuses on some very lively pitching arms. But there are position players to take note of and one of the most interesting ones is Double-A Reading first baseman Darin Ruf.
Ruf is battering Eastern League pitching to the tune of a .339 average, 9 home runs and 37 runs batted in. He’s shown discipline at the plate (22 walks) and for a guy who has developed the ability to drive the ball, he doesn’t strike out that much (33 K’s in 180 at-bats).
With impressive numbers like this, you may be asking why you haven’t heard more about the right-handed hitting Ruf. The big reason is probably his age. He was a 20th-round pick out of Creighton back in 2009, and he started his minor league career in the Rookie Gulf Coast League, so he’s now an “older” player at Double-A Reading (26 in July). However, his ability at the plate is demanding attention.
Ruf says he is well aware of his situation.
“I’ve treated every year since I’ve come to pro ball as, not necessarily my last, but I needed to have a sense of urgency and put up numbers in order to keep having a spot the next year. I feel like I’ve done that for the most part and that’s all you can ask. What happens after that, happens. If I keep moving up, that would be great. I don’t put any more pressure on myself, but I have to take it year-by-year. I don’t have quite the time frame that some of the younger guys have to develop, I have to go out there and prove I can play every year at every level.”
Hear Matt Leon’s full interview with Darin Ruf in this CBS Philly SportsPod…
Dusty Wathan is the Reading Phillies manager and he says Ruf’s ability with the bat is no accident:
“He has a short swing and when you have a short swing it makes things simple, you don’t have as many holes. He’s a guy that works hard at what he does. He’s able to drive the ball all over the ballpark, he’ll take a line drive to right if that’s all they’ll give him.”
Hear Matt Leon’s full interview with Dusty Wathan in this CBS Philly SportsPod…
Wathan says 2011 was big for Ruf as he started to really develop home run power after hitting just 12 total his first two years in the organization.
“I think last year, about half-way through the season, he really worked hard with John Mizerock, the hitting coach down there (at Single-A Clearwater) and Steve Henderson (Phillies minor league hitting coordinator), to elevate some balls and get them in the air. It paid off for him getting some balls in the air and getting some home runs.”
Ruf ended up hitting 17 dingers last season at Single-A Clearwater to go along with a .309 batting average and 82 RBI in 133 games. Despite the gaudy offensive numbers he’s put up the last 14 months or so, Ruf says he can push his offensive ceiling even higher.
“I feel like I can definitely get better in driving the ball to right field a little bit more. Using the whole field, that’s kind of what I’ve prided myself on as a hitter is being able to hit to all fields, and I’ve done a pretty good job of that for the most part this year, but you can always get better at that. Situational hitting, I think I’ve left too many guys on third base with less than two outs this year — more than I would like to.”
As for his defense at first base . .
“He’s outstanding,” Wathan says. “He’s a big guy, he moves well, he’s really good around the bag with his footwork and picking the ball. Very intelligent player, puts himself in the right position a lot. He moves on his own a lot, pays attention to the game, which is a huge advantage. Obviously, when you put yourself in the right position, your range looks a lot better than maybe it is and he does that. Anything he can get to, he’ll field and I think he does a real good job at first base, especially for a guy that people don’t think can move.”
Ruf is also starting to get some work in left field.
So does he let himself think much about the possibility of one day getting that call to the Major Leagues?
“I like to take my season game-to-game, at-bat to at-bat, break it down into short term. But I mean you always think about the long term. It’s always been a goal of mine to make it to the Major Leagues and whether that happens in the short term, in the long term, I’m just going to keep working hard to hopefully get there some day.”
Ruf and the rest of the Reading Phillies are home tonight to host Binghamton.
You can follow Matt Leon on Twitter @mattleonkyw.