Keibert Ruiz is making the Nationals take notice, but even a sizzling start at Triple-A Rochester since arriving in a trade deadline deal with the Dodgers might not be enough to earn the 23-year-old catcher a look-see in D.C. in September.
Ruiz is slashing .314/.360/.614 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in 18 games since joining the Red Wings, including back-to-back two-homer games on Aug. 24 and 25. Both MLBPipeline.com and Baseball America rank him as the organization’s top prospect.
But with the Nats’ focus shifting to development rather than contention, different rules about September roster expansion and the Triple-A regular season being extended through the first weekend in October, it’s no sure bet that Ruiz will make his Nationals debut next month.
The Nationals want Ruiz to play regularly and focus on improving his defense, two things he’s done with regularity since joining the organization several weeks ago.
Ruiz is already challenging the notion that his defense has to catch up with his bat.
“I’ve actually heard that he’s done a lot better (defensively),” manager Davey Martinez said yesterday during a Zoom session with the media. “He’s continuing to progress back behind the plate.”
Nationals bullpen coach Henry Blanco and first base coach Randy Knorr - both former major league catchers - have been poring over video of Ruiz in Rochester and Martinez said they have been impressed with his development.
“The good thing is he’s swinging the bat well,” Martinez said. “He’s learning. I’ve talked to some of the pitchers that we’ve brought up who actually threw to him and they said he’s actually pretty good back there. He understands the game, he knows what he wants to do, he reads the scouting reports well. So I’m looking forward to getting him when we decide to bring him up here and see what he can do up here at the major league level.”
But that may or may not be in September.
New rules instituted by Major League Baseball last season limit teams to two additional players in September, creating a 28-man roster limit instead of the 40-man maximum prior to 2020. It remains to be seen whether the Nats will summon Ruiz with catchers Tres Barrera and Riley Adams currently handling the catching duties for a team out of contention.
“Right now, (Ruiz is) getting an opportunity to play every day down in Triple-A, and that’s what we want him to do,” Martinez said.
Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo are monitoring Ruiz’s progress “and we’ll figure something out here soon,” the manager said.
Even before joining the Nationals in the trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers, Ruiz was knocking at the door of the majors with a strong first full season in Triple-A, slashing .313/.377/.632 with 16 homers and 45 RBIs for Oklahoma City.
And the Nationals may prefer to have him continue to hone his skills in Rochester before reporting to West Palm Beach, Fla., for spring training in February. Ruiz is still learning a new pitching staff, and a recent infusion of some of the club’s most promising hurlers to Triple-A may mean there’s benefit to batterymates getting better acquainted.
“For right now, he’s going to catch every day in Triple-A,” Martinez said.