The Phillies are putting a lot of their eggs in the Darin Ruf basket. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Bring up the name Darin Ruf, and the opinions heard in response are varied and passionate.
There are the nay-sayers, the pessimists, those who don’t believe he’s anything more than a platoon bat or a bench guy, someone who achieved success in Reading last year only because he was much older than the competition. Most of the folks who fall into this category are the ones who spend the most time watching and following Major League Baseball, which gives one pause when hoping Darin Ruf is going to become the power-hitting outfielder the Phillies so desperately need.
There are the yay-sayers (by the way, why isn’t “yay-sayers” a thing? I mean, if “nay-sayers is such a popular word, why not “yay-sayers? Has anyone else wondered this? No? OK, going back under my rock now…), the true believers, the ones who see Ruf’s 38 HRs in AA last year, his productive Major League cup of coffee (albeit in just 37 plate appearances), and continued success in Winter Ball. They think the Phils have found themselves a potential All-Star for the next five to seven years.
Then there are those, like me, in the middle. I am intrigued by his power, his historically good season in Reading, and what he showed at the Major League level, brief as it was. I am not convinced he’s a sure thing, though, and thought it was foolish to rely on him to be an everyday player in left field, a position he has never played with any regularity and one many believe he cannot play.
When it comes to Darin Ruf, I am an optimistic skeptic.
So it was intriguing when MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo released his top 10 first base prospects in all of baseball on Sunday and put “Babe” Ruf at #5.
That’s right, Mayo has Darin Ruf as the fifth-best first base prospect in all of baseball.
I’m not sure which is more surprising… that the Phils’ third baseman of the future is not regarded as one of the top 15 third base prospects by an expert in the field, or that Ruf has been placed in the top tier of first base prospects.
Of course, this positional ranking doesn’t mean that much to the Phillies, because they won’t be playing Ruf at first base. Ruf will presumably be manning left field, and Mayo’s list of outfield prospects has yet to be released.
It’s doubtful Ruf will be on that list.
Still, Mayo’s opinion of Ruf is more glowing than most who have ranked the Phils’ prospect so far this off-season.
"When you’re taken in the 20th round of the Draft as a college senior — as Ruf was in 2009 out of Creighton — the expectations aren’t going to be all that high. It’s safe to say Ruf already exceeded them by reaching the big leagues last season after leading the Minors in home runs. While he’s played more first than anywhere, Ruf has seen time in left field as well, his flexibility adding to his value at the big-league level."
Mayo compared Ruf to Richie Sexon, the former Indian, Brewer, Diamondback, Mariner and Yankee, who was never known as a plus-defender and had all the speed of a drunken Ben Stein. Yet he still managed to hit more than 30 HRs six times, finishing with 306 during a 12-year career.
The Phils would be thrilled if they get that out of Ruf.
I miss him. Mandatory Credit: H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports via USA TODAY Sports
Of course, the real kick in the pants is who Mayo, and every other analyst, has ranked as the best first base prospect. Former Phillie farm-hand Jonathan Singleton tops his list, the key player traded in the Hunter Pence deal a year and a half ago.
"Originally drafted in the eighth round in 2009 by the Phillies,who signed him away from attending Long Beach State. Potentially blocked by Ryan Howard, the Phillies tried Singleton in the outfield, but when they dealt him to Houston in the ’11 Hunter Pence deal, Singleton moved back to first, a better spot for him defensively. He has the ability to hit for average and get on-base, and the power has started to come. Singleton will begin the season serving a 50-game suspension for a marijuana suspension, but he will be allowed to play in spring games and is expected to have a good shot at the Majors if he continues to produce."
That marijuana suspension aside, Singleton looks like he’ll be a sure-fire All-Star when he hits the big leagues. And while his path to the Majors was blocked by Ryan Howard at first base, the Phils were trying to convert him into an outfielder at the time of the trade, much they’re trying to do with Ruf now.
But hey, it’s a good thing we didn’t send Domonic Brown along in that deal, right?
Singleton is, of course, spilled milk. And having the fifth-best first base prospect isn’t bad, right?
Oh yeah, that’s right. He’s not playing first base.
So, what should we make of Mayo’s ranking of Ruf?
The nay-sayers will say it’s ridiculous.
The yay-sayers will say it’s justified.
For those in the middle like me, I say what Ronald Reagan used to say about the Soviets.
Trust… but verify.