It wasn't easy to part with Trea Turner and Max Scherzer at the Trade Deadline, but getting Top 100 Prospects Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray as part of the four-player package in return made that decision worthwhile for the Nationals. Washington envisions Ruiz and Gray becoming cornerstones they can build upon, and they will get to see both of them in action Monday night.
While Gray immediately replaced Scherzer in the Nationals' rotation, Ruiz changed Triple-A clubs from Oklahoma City to Rochester after switching organizations. After Ruiz had back-to-back two-homer games last week, Washington promoted him Monday and will have him start behind the plate, with Gray taking the mound against the Phillies.
One of the top catching prospects in baseball and ranked No. 19 overall in MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects, Ruiz signed for $140,000 out of Venezuela on his 16th birthday in 2014. He batted .374/.412/.527 between two Rookie leagues in his U.S. debut two years later, then ranked third among all Minor League backstops in hitting (.316) when he reached full-season ball in 2017, moving to high Class A before he turned 19.
Ruiz leveled off a bit in Double-A in 2018 and '19 as Will Smith passed him on Los Angeles' depth chart. Much of his development last year came at the club's alternate site, where he focused on doing a better job of incorporating his lower half in his swing and backspinning balls to improve his power production. He did make his big league debut with the Dodgers, homering off Julio Teheran in his first plate appearance but getting only eight total at-bats.
Ruiz went deep against Kyle Hendricks in a seven-at-bat cup of coffee this year with Los Angeles, but he has spent most of 2021 in Triple-A. He has posted the best numbers of his career in his age-22 season, batting .310/.377/.616 with 21 homers in 72 games.
With impressive bat control and a disciplined approach, Ruiz has established himself as one of the premier contact hitters in the Minors. He's a career .301/.356/.453 hitter with a 10 percent strikeout rate. A switch-hitter, he generates much more power from the left side, where he has slammed 49 of his 52 homers in pro ball.
Ruiz also has the tools to be a solid defender. He's agile with soft hands and good framing skills, and he has shown improved consistency with his receiving in 2021. While his pure arm strength grades as better than average, his transfer and accuracy with his throws still need work, and he has erased just 20 percent of basestealers this year.
The Nationals have had just one All-Star catcher during their 17 seasons in Washington -- Wilson Ramos in 2016 -- and Ruiz is equipped to become their best backstop since they moved from Montreal. He should be able to immediately hold his own at the plate while continuing to polish his defense.