Next week, when the calendar has flipped to 2017, we will begin the process of voting on our new Community Prospect List. In the meantime, though, let’s consider the newest addition to Oakland A’s farm system, Cuban pitcher Norge Ruiz, and where he might ultimately fit into the rankings.
First, the quick facts. Ruiz is a right-hander, age 23 next season. He signed for $2 million, which is a sizable bonus on its own, but the A’s had to spend a total of $4 million to get him. MLB Pipeline offers this scouting report:
Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Slider: 55 | Splitter: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 50
Ruiz will reach 94 mph with his fastball and comfortably sits in the 90-92 mph range, and he's adept at generating considerable late movement on the pitch thanks to his varying arm angels. His changeup arguably is his best secondary offering, flashing plus at times, and he also has advanced feel for a slider and a splitter. In general, he's a groundball pitcher with the ability to change speeds and keep hitters off balance.
While not physically intimidating [6’0, 185], Ruiz knows how to pitch and evaluators praise his bulldog mentality on the mound. Improving his control and command and generating more whiffs could go a long way in helping him remain a starter, although Ruiz should still offer plenty of value out of the bullpen, where his stuff stands to play up.
More from Ben Badler of Baseball America:
Ruiz doesn’t overpower hitters, sitting at 89-92 mph and touching 94 with a lively fastball that helps him get groundballs. He has a plus changeup and his slider can flash above-average as well but tends to flatten out on him, with a splitter mixed in as well. Over his last season in Cuba, Ruiz started to pitch more off his fastball, but he will throw any pitch in any count. Ruiz isn’t that big [5’10, 195] and he finishes with recoil in his delivery, which gives some scouts concerns about his durability, but he has a chance to develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter if everything clicks.
But some tempered expectations from FanGraphs’ leading prospect guy:
Norge Ruiz a likely fastball/slider reliever due to size, delivery and command. 40 FV prospect, probably in the 15-20 range in OAK system.— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) December 23, 2016
Finally, some video:
(I’m not a scout. I’m not a scout. I’m not a scout. But dang, my immediate first thought is how much he looks like a reliever in those clips.)
Given all that information, where does Ruiz rank in the A’s system? I’m just finding him a spot on my own personal prospect list here — like I said, we’ll start the official AN voting next week.
First, some benchmarks. Longenhagen suggested a placement in the 15-20 range in the above tweet, and clearly he’s on the pessimistic side given his bullpen forecast. Meanwhile, MLB Pipeline gives him more favorable scouting grades, helping him all the way up to No. 12.
Here are the right-handed pitchers in that general area on my list (Jefferies is low until he does something in the pros, but I imagine the community will rank him higher than I have):
12. Dakota Chalmers, RHP
17. Logan Shore, RHP
20. Heath Fillmyer, RHP
22. Raul Alcantara, RHP
23. Paul Blackburn, RHP
24. James Naile, RHP
25. Daulton Jefferies, RHP
Right away I think MLB Pipeline ranked Ruiz too high, because my top tier of prospects runs through the top 14 and I think he’s in the next (still good!) tier with most of the guys on that list above. Let’s compare him to each of those names.
If you’re high on Ruiz, then you see him around Shore’s level, as a fast-track candidate for the middle/back of the rotation. My hunch is that Shore has a better chance of sticking as a starter, though, so he wins this round.
Next up is Fillmyer, but for me, Ruiz needs to show his stuff in the minors in order to pass Fillmyer’s breakout 2016 season. He might well do that! But until then, patience. As for Alcantara, he seems to have a similar profile to Ruiz but in MLB-ready form and with a couple more ticks of velocity.
Blackburn seems like the best comp — another small-framed, 90-94 mph groundball guy, and the same age too. But Blackburn already has a year of Double-A experience and a spot on the 40-man roster, whereas Ben Badler notes in his aforementioned report that Double-A could be an appropriate starting point for Ruiz.
Then we get down to Naile, Jefferies, Evan Manarino (31), and Kyle Friedrichs (32). These are the low-minors lotto tickets (in Jefferies’ case, due to injury concerns until he proves otherwise in the pros). Ruiz probably belongs above this group, as his stuff sounds superior and his foreign pro experience at least matches their limited MiLB time.
That makes it easy, then. I have Ruiz below Blackburn, but above Naile, and those two happened to lie consecutively on my list. Therefore, Ruiz slides in at No. 24, with the chance to fly up if he makes an eye-opening debut in the upper minors next summer. Honestly, that’s lower than I thought I would end up putting him, and I’ll bet many people will rank him higher, but to me this is a statement on the A’s absurdly deep pitching pipeline rather than a knock on the individual player.
Where does Ruiz rank in your version of the A’s top prospect list? To the comments!