Up until a few years ago, the catching talent over the entirety of the Dodgers‘ farm system may have been considered downright barren. However, after acquiring Austin Barnes via trade in December of 2014, and selecting the highly regarded Will Smith in the first round of the 2016 draft, the organization took a big step towards being adequately stocked. Yet the catcher who could have perhaps the highest ceiling in the whole system, Keibert Ruiz, is still flying under the radar in terms of his reputation among the fan base.
The Dodgers signed Ruiz as a free agent out of Venezuela for a mere $140,000 right on his 16th birthday in July of 2014. After getting his feet wet in the Dominican Summer League the following year, Ruiz was quickly ushered to Ogden in the Pioneer League last season, where he slashed an impressive .354/.393/.503 over 206 plate appearances at only 17 years of age. Quite often throughout the campaign, Ruiz was a key contributor to the Raptors’ quest in winning the 2016 South Division crown. In the division clincher against Grand Junction last September, he went 3-for-5, including a drive to center which plated the game-winning run in the 10th inning.
“Keibert Ruiz, just turned 18 and he’s a pure hitter,” Ogden manager Shaun Larkin said following the Grand Junction contest. “The moment never gets too big for him and tonight was no different. He has a way of slowing the game down when it gets big, and he’s been getting big hits for us for the last two weeks. If there’s anyone I want hitting in that situation, it’s Ruiz and he came up big for us.”
According to FanGraphs, Ruiz’s catching mechanics are near perfect, and some scouts believe that he has the ability to competently handle duties behind the dish at the major league level right now. Dodgers’ management has been impressed with Ruiz to the point that they allowed him to dress for an official Cactus League contest against the Rangers last Thursday.
Because of his age, though, his arm ranks about average when compared to the MLB standard, but that may indeed change as he matures. Still, his feet are amazingly quick, and all his throws consistently show outstanding accuracy.
With the lumber, Ruiz’s strongest point is his ability to make contact with the ball, which was made evident by his striking out only 23 times in those 206 plate appearances last year for Ogden. A switch hitter, he hasn’t shown much power yet, but he does have a bit of pull power from the left side particularly, and it may be an aspect of his game that blossoms as his body finishes its growth stage. His .354 average last year ultimately finished fourth in his hunt for a Pioneer League batting title.
MLB Pipeline currently ranks Ruiz as the 15th best prospect in the Los Angeles organization.
Looking ahead, it’s safe to assume that Ruiz drifts around the A-level in 2017, likely beginning the year with the Loons in the Midwest League.
As far as the Dodgers’ current depth chart goes, Ruiz probably lands a few ticks behind the 21-year-old Smith, yet if he’s able to prove himself with a full season of success this year, he could surface as one of baseball’s better catching prospects.