The coronation of Darin Ruf as the next great Phillies slugger may have to wait a little while.
You know, until he actually starts hitting baseballs on a semi-regular basis.
The Phillies have five players eying two available spots in the outfield, Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, Delmon Young, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix, and the hope by most is that Brown and Ruf would nail down those two spots in spring training.
Certainly, having two young players with some potential playing the outfield beats the alternative of putting Nix, Mayberry or (shudder) Young in the outfield on a regular basis.
And while Brown has been doing his part to nail down a starting outfield spot on April 1, (it would be ridiculous if Brown is not the starting right fielder in Atlanta) things have not gone quite as well for Ruf so far.
In fact, one could say things have been “Ruf” (see what I did there?) for the young right-handed slugger.
I promise not to do that again, by the way.
Yesterday, against the Dominican Republic, Ruf went 0-4 with three strikeouts and misplayed a ball in left field that resulted in a ground rule double for Miguel Tejada.
Luckily for Ruf, yesterday’s stats against the DR don’t count in the Grapefruit League standings. However, he’s hitting just .111 so far in official spring training at-bats (3-for-27) with just one double and three RBIs. He’s also made two official errors in the outfield, as the converted first baseman tries to make the transition from first base to left field.
It’s not going well so far.
Charlie Manuel, when asked how Ruf has looked so far this spring, offered this cogent analysis.
“It looks like he didn’t get no hits.”
You know, I think Charlie has a future in the Phillies TV broadcast booth when his managerial career wraps up.
“Right now, things aren’t going good for Ruf,” Manuel said. “He’ll be all right. Ruf isn’t the only guy to ever come to Spring Training and get off to a slow start. It happens every spring. He’ll be fine. He is going to get some more hits. He’s not going to go all of his life with collars.”
No, but it is entirely possible that Ruf will go the rest of his life without having real success in the Major Leagues. Critics have long suggested Ruf’s power surge last year was a result of his advanced age playing at the AA level and that Ruf would revert to the mean once he faced Major League pitching on a regular basis.
And while that may be what’s going on right now, the bigger reason for Ruf’s struggles at the plate, however, is likely his attempt to learn a new position. It is very difficult to focus on hitting when you’re spending so much time focusing on how to play a new defensive position.
Unless your name is Freddy Galvis, it isn’t easy to do.
Which is why it’s almost a certainty that Ruf will start the season at AAA Lehigh Valley instead of with the Major League club come April 1. Even though Delmon Young will likely start the season on the disabled list, the Phils will probably want to get Ruf regular at bats and repetitions in left field in a less pressurized situation.
One of the reasons Dom Brown began the year in AAA last year is because of worries over his defense. While you wouldn’t know it by the offseason acquisitions made by Ruben Amaro, the Phils do place some importance on catching the baseball, and certainly don’t want to have a player costing them runs in the outfield.
Of course, spring training is not over. There are still 23 games left to be played in the preseason, oodles of time for Ruf to turn things around and allow his power bat to render his shaky defense less important. If Ruf picks it up and starts to hit in Grapefruit League action, it’s possible he can still grab a starting spot in left, even if it’s just until Young returns from his knee injury.
But it’s hard to see a drastic enough change in his performance to warrant him being on the 25-man roster once the season begins in Atlanta.
Hope springs eternal.
Unfortunately, reality will likely spring John Mayberry.
“Ruf has struggled in the outfield and he has struggled offensively,” Amaro said. “Sometimes that happens. He’s a kid who is basically coming from double A. He wants to do his best to get acclimated in left field. He’s trying to impress with his bat. He’s probably trying to do a little too much.
“Whether he makes our club or not, that remains to be seen. He’s going to have to play better than he’s playing now to be on our major-league roster. There are a lot of things going on with him. We’re throwing a lot of stuff at him. With some time, hopefully he’ll start to relax and play the way we know he can play. He’s still learning.”
Seems pretty obvious Ruf is not impressing his general manager, who is just ITCHING to get Delmon Young on the field, and likely won’t be able to force Dom Brown into the Siberia-like wasteland he’d like to throw him into.