Outfielder Esteury Ruiz was one of the headliners for the Oakland Athletics in the big three-team trade that sent catcher Sean Murphy to the Atlanta Braves. Ruiz saw ample playing time and broke Kenny Lofton’s stolen base record for a rookie. However, his season was more of a mixed bag as he failed to make many strides at the plate and was surprisingly deficient in the outfield, despite his good speed.
Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers last December in a three-team trade that also involved the Atlanta Braves. Oakland acquired Ruiz along with Royber Salinas, Kyle Muller, Manny Pina and Freddy Tarnok in exchange for Sean Murphy and Joel Payamps.
What were the expectations?
It is probably fair to say that no A’s player entered the 2023 season with high expectations, but there was a certain amount of buzz around Ruiz coming out of the spring. Oakland made it clear that Ruiz was going to see ample playing time when they dealt away Cristian Pache, who was out of options, at the end of the spring. The hope was that he would produce enough to be an everyday outfielder and a table setter for the offense.
The results were a mixed bag, but we will start with the good. Ruiz led the American League with 67 stolen bases and finished just five steals behind Ronald Acuña Jr. despite missing almost a month with a shoulder injury. Ruiz was given the green light to run whenever and was only thrown out 13 times on the season.
He suffered a shoulder injury while diving back into first base on a pickoff attempt in early July. That ended up costing him about a month and he lost some playing time down the stretch after Lawrence Butler was promoted to the active roster.
What went right? What went wrong?
Ruiz could be even more dangerous on the base paths if he could find his way on base even more and this is the biggest area of his game that needs to be improved. He posted just a .309 on-base percentage in 497 plate appearances which was further propped up by being hit by a pitch 16 times. Ruiz walked a total of six times over his final 47 games and had just a 4.0 percent walk-rate for the season. The on-base skills are important because his bat is lacking. Ruiz produced just an 86 wRC+ in those 497 plate appearances and his .290 wOBA actually out performed his .273 xwOBA. We did see Ruiz turn on some pitches at the end of the season, but overall, his 82.7 mph average exit velocity and 2.5 percent barrel rate are some of the lowest in the majors.
In addition to his on-base skills, Ruiz needs to improve defensively where he wasn’t impressive despite his good speed. He was one of the worst outfielders in the majors in terms of Defensive Runs Saved finishing at -20. His UZR was at -10.3 although Baseball Savant’s Fielding Run Value was a little more bullish at just -2. Ruiz’s arm probably isn’t going to get any better, but it is reasonable to think that his outfield routes and jumps could with time. A full time switch to left field also could be in the cards.
Ruiz won’t turn 25 until February and just spent his first full season in the majors on an A’s team that was lacking in talent so I don’t want to be too negative. Still, given the deficiencies that he showed in his game, it is fair to wonder if he is anything more than a fourth outfielder on a good team. The A’s are banking that there is more to unlock so we will have to see what kind of progression he makes in his second season.