Did Rio Ruiz lock down third base gig with strong spring?

Chris Davis was not the only Oriole with a strong spring training at the plate. Third baseman Rio Ruiz had a solid spring and was spraying a few line drives around ballparks all over Florida.

Ruiz led the club in hits in spring training, batting .440 (11-for-25) with three doubles, a homer and two RBIs. He posted a .464 OBP and a .680 slugging percentage in that small sample.

In a game March 1 against the Phillies in Clearwater, Ruiz went 3-for-3, hitting all three base knocks on the screws. He smoked a booming double to left in the first and a solo homer to left in the fourth. He pulled a line drive single into right in the fifth. He left that game batting .667 (10-for-15). So he went 1-for-10 after that, but you have to fall a bit when you are batting nearly .700.

"He's driving the ball in BP," manager Brandon Hyde said that day. "He looks bigger, he's stronger. That was definitely a point of emphasis, to get some strength. He recognized it at the end of last year. He did that this offseason. Feel like he's driving the ball really well and hope it carries over."

Added Ruiz in Clearwater: "I think it is me minimizing my approach and having one plan up there. That is helping a lot. I'm just trying to stick with that. Coming into spring, I just wanted to barrel as many balls as I can. You know, there is still work to be done. I still have to win a job. I'm just doing my best right now to do that."

He was well on his way to earning the starter's spot at third base. At very least, he would be part of a platoon there.

Ruiz-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgIn 127 games last season, Ruiz hit .232/.306/.376 with 13 doubles, two triples, 12 homers and 46 RBIs. He hit a two-run walk-off homer on Aug. 11 versus Houston, and it was the Orioles' only walk-off win of the year.

But in the second half, we saw Ruiz's bat trending up. Not in batting average, but in power numbers. His first-half slugging and OPS were .328/635, and in the second half those numbers were .462/.766.

Ruiz averaged an extra-base hit every 22.1 plate appearances in the first half and one every 9.9 plate appearances after the All-Star Game. Before spring training started, I asked the 25-year-old Ruiz why he showed more pop as last year went on.

"It might have been a combination of things," he said. "Ultimately, I was just more aggressive. Whether it was early in the count or certain counts or situations, I was a little bit more aggressive. And kind of didn't have any second thoughts. Went up there free-minded.

"It just kind of developed that way. I've always known I've had that in me. It was just a matter of time for me and I've always kept that confidence. I know I can be here and I belong here. Now I want to build off that second half."

There may be a couple of ways to see Ruiz right now. As a part of the Orioles' future would be one way - a player that is trending up. A player that will not turn 26 until next month. Former O's skipper Buck Showalter pointed out often that some players really come into their own at 27 or 28.

Some could see Ruiz as a placeholder until the Orioles find a better player at third base. Will he be part of a contending Orioles team down the line? Maybe it will turn out to be somewhere in between. He's good enough to be part of the 26-man roster, but will he have a hard time holding onto a starting job?

There are a variety of possible outcomes here. But after his strong second half, Ruiz, a player who was solid on defense last year, is certainly worth another look.

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