One of the most animated Phillies-related discussions this winter continues to be over the team’s power-hitting first baseman/outfielder Darin Ruf. He has solidified a strong fan base in the Delaware Valley region–somewhat surprising since he has never had a full season of success at the Double-A level.
It’s partially because of his ability to rack up home runs as he did in Reading two seasons ago. Or, perhaps it’s because he was not considered a “blue chip” prospect, yet his blue collar approach which we all love a player to have, has forced the Phillies to consider this underdog in their future plans. Although he has been inconsistent in his approach at the plate for the last two years, and he doesn’t really have an available position on the team’s current roster, people have pushed hard for him to be in the ball club.
I pointed out a few weeks ago on our “RCN SportsTalk” show that, at the start of spring training, Ruf would probably not be on their Opening Day roster—not without a key injury to at least one other position player. When I said this, it drew an immediate reaction with our show viewers. Here’s one such email:
“Chris. How can you say that Ruf won’t be on the Opening Day roster this spring? He was the team’s best hitter for the second half
of last year? He showed patience at the plate, and was one of the few players who [showed] the ability to get on base. The Phillies
would be nuts if he wasn’t on the team to start the year, and I don’t know how you can think that he would not???” Dave, Allentown
Again, there are no current starting positions open (first base or corner outfield) in which Ruf could play, nor can he take over the “backup center field” spot on the roster that the Phillies like to have, because he doesn’t have enough foot speed to play that position. Which, in the Phillies’ minds, would keep him from making the team. The Phillies also desperately need to keep a roster spot open for a left-handed pinch-hitting option, which indicates Bobby Abreu or Tony Gywnn, Jr. will make the team before Ruf. However, for all the “Babe Ruf” fans out there, let’s take a realistic approach of how he could make the Opening Day roster. (Note: This would require the team’s front office to show flexibility and change its’ stance on an issue—which hasn’t occurred in quite some time. So you might have to suspend your belief in realism to read further).
The Phillies do without a designated player with great range and speed that would be their backup center fielder in case Ben Revere gets a minor injury or needs a day off. With the shorter dimensions of Citizens’ Bank Park (and other small stadiums around the league), you might be able to get away with Marlon Byrd or even Dom Brown (if your stomach can handle his routes) patrolling the center field for a game or two. This would mean that John Mayberry, Jr.’s role on the team is no longer needed (wouldn’t that kill a second bird with one stone?) and Ruf could make the team as a right-handed pinch hitter, who could spell Ryan Howard at first on occasion, and play a corner outfield spot here and there. If the Phillies do need a long-term center fielder due to a serious injury to Revere (again, like last year), they could bring someone up from Triple-A.
The Phillies could cut another fan favorite, Kevin Frandsen, and go with Freddy Galvis as the lone backup infielder. This might seem the most logical as Frandsen is not a power hitter that the team likes to have coming off the bench (see Abreu, below). Also, Frandsen can only play two or three positions—all of which Galvis and/or Ruf (first base) could man in the case of an slump, double switch or day-to-day injury. However, Ryne Sandberg raved about Frandsen’s pinch-hitting ability a year ago and Frandsen also has a guaranteed contract, so the team would lose arguably their most consistent bat off the bench and be forced to pay him for NOT playing, if they chose this option.
They could keep Gwynn, a player who spent all of last season in the minor leagues, as their primary left-handed pinch hitter. Since Gwynn also has speed and plays center field, it would make either Abreu or Mayberry expendable and clear a spot for Ruf. However, the Phillies love Abreu’s patient approach at the plate (despite his batting average now under .200), and his ability to still hit homers in a pinch–a trait they typically like to have in their first left-handed option (a la Matt Stairs, Lance Nix, Jim Thome, et al). Since Gywnn has minimal power and hasn’t overwhelmed anyone with his bat so far in spring training, this is the least likely option to occur.
Perhaps the most intriguing possibility: infielder Freddy Galvis becomes your “other” center fielder, thus opening up a spot on the bench for Ruf. Galvis, much like Ruf, does not have an available starting spot. While his glove is better than any infielder on the roster, he struggled at the plate in Triple-A (he actually hit better when in the Big Leagues). The team would love to have him start the year in the minors to improve his hitting so that he can become a middle infield starter for the near future. The high payroll, however, dictates the team must play him—and win—now. Having him learn center field would be another way to try to get him more at-bats. (He actually hits better from the right side of the plate and could spell Revere against a tough lefty, if needed). This idea may sound far-fetched, but Ryne Sandberg, who has pretty much guaranteed Galvis a spot on the roster, started him in center over the weekend. Look for that experiment to continue as spring training rolls on.
Are you a fan of Darin Ruf? Do you think he should make the team for Opening Day, and which other players do you think should travel north when the team breaks camp in a few weeks? Hey, Sandberg dropped Howard down to the fifth spot in the batting order for Monday’s game, so maybe anything is possible?! Post a comment below and/or send your comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us on Thursdays at 6pm as we discuss the team on future shows!