The Philadelphia Phillies have promoted first baseman/outfielder Darin Ruf from Double-A Reading. Ruf had an amazingly good month of August, hitting .371/.451/.931 with 20 home runs in 116 at-bats (read that again). On the season, he hit .317/.408/.620 with 32 doubles, 38 homers, 104 RBI, 65 walks, and 102 strikeouts in 489 at-bats. Not surprisingly, he led the Eastern League with a 1.028 OPS, which was 159 points better than his nearest competitor.
If you're not a Phillies fan, you probably haven't heard of Ruf until this year, probably not until the last month. Even now, much commentary about him has been dismissive. Let's change that and see what the Phillies have here.
Ruf is a 6-3, 220-pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born July 28th, 1986. He was drafted in the 20th round in 2009 from Creighton University in Omaha. He was a productive four-year regular for Creighton, hitting .331/.432/.508 in his college career and impressing local scouts with his approach to hitting. However, he didn't thrill anyone with his defense, athleticism, or tools. The draft curve is very steep for right-handed hitting first basemen, and he was selected mainly as organization fodder.
He mashed in his pro debut, hitting .301/.377/.496 in 37 games for Williamsport in the New York-Penn League. Of course, college seniors are supposed to hit well in the NY-P, so that didn't mean a lot. He continued hitting in Low-A in 2010, batting .330/.443/.548 in 32 games for Lakewood. However, his production fell off in 97 games in the more-difficult hitting environment of the Florida State League, where he hit .277/.335/.421 for Clearwater.
That's not that bad actually; the FSL isn't an easy place to hit. But he was now 24, and he really needed a good season in 2011 to stay in the picture. That he did, batting .308/.388/.506 with 17 homers, 43 doubles, 56 walks, and 95 strikeouts in 484 at-bats. But he was repeating Clearwater, and thus it was easy to still dismiss him as an older guy battering younger pitching.
His bat isn't so easy to dismiss now. As noted above, he destroyed Double-A in the second half this year. I've been watching him since college, and while he's not going to be hitting .300 in the majors, he has a feel for the strike zone, power to all fields, and is dangerous when he's locked in. On meritocratic grounds, he's earned some September at-bats in the majors.
The hard part is finding a place to play him. He's big and slow, big and slow enough to be a problem even at first base. He doesn't make many errors actually, and his arm isn't bad (he's pitched a couple of times), but his range is very limited. The Phillies played him in left field in August. Making a valiant effort, Ruf collected three assists in 29 games and didn't make an error, but his lack of speed and range out there is obvious, and he's not exactly smooth and graceful with his routes.
Ruf is an old prospect at age 26 and it remains to be seen how/if/when the Phillies can fit him into the lineup. Would his bat be good enough to compensate for his defensive limitations? Maybe, maybe not. Even with his performance this year, many scouts are skeptical about his ability to handle major league pitching. I have more faith in his bat than most, however I may be prejudiced since I saw him as an amateur and have a soft-spot for Midwestern players. But Ruf has surely earned an opportunity to show us what he can do, and I'd sure love to see him knock a few pitches out of the park.