The Nationals aren’t waiting to get a look at promising young catcher Keibert Ruiz, who will be promoted from Triple-A Rochester for Monday night’s opener of a three-game home series against the Phillies, the club announced this morning.
“He’s playing really well down there,” manager Davey Martinez said in his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “We want to get him here, get him settled, let him get some at-bats down at Rochester. (General manager Mike Rizzo) and I, we sat around and we feel that he’s ready to come up and get an opportunity to play here.”
This won’t be the major league debut for the 23-year-old backstop, who assumed the mantel of the top prospect in the organization after being acquired from the Dodgers as part of a four-player package in exchange for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner on July 30. Ruiz has played in eight games over the past two seasons for the Dodgers.
But with Josiah Gray - another part of the haul from L.A. - starting Monday night against the Phillies, the Nationals decided their future is now.
“He’s part of our future here,” Martinez said of Ruiz. “The exciting part about it is worked out to where Josiah is pitching tomorrow as well.”
Ruiz’s time at Triple-A was brief but productive. He slashed .308/.365/.577 with six doubles, five homers and 14 RBIs. His work behind the plate dispelled some of the myths that his defense needed to catch up to his bat, and Martinez is eager to have Nationals bullpen coach Henry Blanco, who works with the team’s catchers, proceed from video reviews of the promising backstop to in-person instruction.
The Nationals will need to make a roster move to add Ruiz to the 26-man roster, and it’s possible one of the existing catchers - Tres Barrera or Riley Adams, a trade deadline acquisition from the Blue Jays in the Brad Hand deal - could at least temporarily be demoted to Rochester to accommodate Ruiz’s activation.
Or the Nats could go with three catchers for a spell. With Alex Avila on a rehab assignment with the Rookie-level Florida Complex League team while working his way back from bilateral calf strains, there’s the possibility of a short-team logjam behind the plate.
“It’s a possibility we’ll carry three,” Martinez said. “We haven’t really decided yet.”
Either way, Ruiz will get a taste of the majors and a head start on working with some of the pitchers he’ll catch next season. Playing time will figure itself out, Martinez said.
“I’ll see how this is all going to work out, but we want to give him an opportunity to play - and play every day,” Martinez said. “With that being said, I think you guys know how I use the catchers. He’s going to get some days where he’s going to get some rest and maybe come off the bench. But we’re going to play him as much as we can.”
As with most young players, the Nationals will keep a watchful eye on Ruiz’s work habits, mechanics and how he adjusts to a major league pitching staff. But Ruiz’s time in Rochester didn’t do anything to change his reputation as a promising addition to the organization.
“He understands the game,” Martinez said. “You know, I watched some of the games that he’s called and he’s very into the game. He understands the catching portion of it. Obviously, he’s young (and) he’s going to get better. We’re going to get him better. But his at-bats were really good, and like I said, I’m looking forward to watching him play up here in the big leagues.”
Despite his recent home run surge at Triple-A - he had back-to-back two-homer games on Aug. 24 and 25 - Ruiz isn’t expected to be an immediate power threat. But any catcher who slashed .310/.377/.616 in 72 Triple-A games between Oklahoma City and Rochester sounds like an exciting addition for the Nats’ long-term future.
“We don’t want to put that in his head either,” Martinez said. “Like I said, we just want him to have good, consistent at-bats. The biggest thing we’ll talk about is to stay in the middle of the field and then take his walks.”
One of the key components to Ruiz’s promotion is the opportunity to work with Blanco, who spent 16 years catching in the majors.
“Henry’s strength is everything about catching,” Martinez said. “I played against him and he’s one of the best - on calling games, blocking balls, throwing people out. I’ve seen him do it all and he teaches really well. As you can see, a lot of our guys got better.”
Martinez pointed out that Adams has improved the quickness of his release, his footwork and his mechanics under Blanco’s tutelage in a very short time.
“Henry understands what it takes,” Martinez said. “For him, Henry will be all about catching. He makes it a priority to work with our catchers. “