Ruiz impressed in first full season, with room to grow


Age on opening day 2023: 24

How acquired: Traded from Dodgers with Josiah Gray, Donovan Casey and Gerardo Carrillo for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, July 2021

MLB service time: 1 year, 64 days

2022 salary: $701,300

Contract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2025, free agent in 2028

2022 stats: 112 G, 433 PA, 394 AB, 33 R, 99 H, 22 2B, 0 3B, 7 HR, 36 RBI, 6 SB, 1 CS, 30 BB, 50 SO, .251 AVG, .313 OBP, .360 SLG, .673 OPS, 95 OPS+, -4 DRS, 1.7 fWAR, 1.6 bWAR

Quotable: “I’ll tell you, he’s done really well. We talk about him a lot, but he’s matured behind the plate. He’s gotten a lot better at calling games. His hitting has gotten a lot better. As you know, he’s a catch-and-throw guy. He can throw guys out. He blocks balls well. He’s going to be a big part of our future moving forward. I truly believe one of these years, this kid will be an All-Star. He’s improved that much.” – Davey Martinez

2022 analysis: The Nationals entered the season believing Ruiz would be their long-term answer behind the plate, and his ensuing performance – while still leaving some things to be desired – only solidified that feeling within the organization.

Ruiz impressed most with his defensive skills, especially his ability to stop the running game. For most of the season, he was neck-and-neck with Phillies All-Star J.T. Realmuto in the race to throw out the most runners trying to steal, though his September injury ultimately left him a distant second with 18 to Realmuto’s 27. That figure doesn’t include his league-leading four runners picked off, all four of those coming in the first half of the season when he and former first baseman Josh Bell were in sync on well-executed timing plays.

At the plate, Ruiz lived up to his reputation as a highly skilled contact hitter. He made contact on an astounding 91 percent of pitches in the strike zone, and maybe an even more astounding 72.5 percent on pitches out of the strike zone. That, though, may underscore his biggest area for improvement. Ruiz needs to learn to lay off more of those pitches out of the zone, recognizing just because he can hit them doesn’t mean he’ll always make the best contact on them. Evidence of that, perhaps: His batting average on balls in play was an extremely low .271 (league average was .291). Ruiz might actually fare better putting fewer balls in play.

Ruiz was getting better, at everything, in late August and early September before an unfortunate injury suffered when he was struck by a foul ball ended his season four weeks early. Had he been able to finish out the year, his offensive totals might have looked better.

2023 outlook: There’s no question Ruiz is here to stay. And the Nationals have every reason to believe he’ll continue to grow with each passing season.

They especially were encouraged by the way he matured as a game caller over the course of the season and was willing to be more aggressive with pitchers. Ruiz is a soft-spoken individual, but he is quickly earning respect from his more veteran teammates. For what it’s worth, the Nationals went 9-8 in the final 17 games he started, then plummeted to 6-18 in the 24 games they played after he went on the injured list.

Though defense is Ruiz’s first priority, the club would like to see more development in his offensive game next season. Martinez would talk about his penchant for looking to hit everything to the opposite field, which isn’t a bad approach in a broad sense but perhaps prevented Ruiz from hitting for some more power if he looked to pull more hittable pitches on the inner third of the plate. He hit 21 homers in the minors in 2021, so he does have it in him.

The biggest challenge facing Ruiz next season is simply keeping himself on the field. Catchers take a pounding, and he certainly took one this season. Even so, he was on pace to start more games than anyone other than Realmuto before his early September injury. It’s up to him to communicate with Martinez when he needs days off, and do everything else he can to keep his body in shape to survive the rigors of a 162-game season that only get tougher as a catcher ages.

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