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Scouting profile: Rio Ruiz

Braves third-base prospect boasts good bat speed and power potential

Left-handed-hitting, right-handed-throwing third baseman Rio Ruiz was a fantastic football and baseball player at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, Calif. In addition to playing third, he was also a relief pitcher for the Lancers. As a matter of fact, he had committed to attend the University of Southern California when he was only a junior. He had his eye on playing both baseball and football for the Trojans.

A frequent participant on showcase squads, Ruiz underwent a procedure to dissolve a blood clot near the clavicle in his right shoulder in his senior year. Instead of going to USC as planned, he signed a professional baseball contract with the Astros after they selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 Draft.

A gifted athlete at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Ruiz didn't remain with the Astros for long. In a January 2015 trade with Atlanta, the Astros traded Andrew Thurman, Mike Foltynewicz and Ruiz to the Braves for power-hitting Evan Gattis and James Hoyt.

After four seasons of Minor League baseball, Ruiz has a composite .263 batting average and 29 home runs in 1,715 plate appearances. He is currently No. 8 among the Top 30 Braves Prospects.

My first extended looks at Ruiz took place in the 2014 Arizona Fall League. He hit only .187 playing for Salt River last autumn, but that came after a .293 showing at Class A Advanced Lancaster in the Astros' system.

Generally a good contact hitter, Ruiz scuffled a bit this past year for the Braves' Double-A Mississippi club, hitting only .233. He struck out 94 times in 489 trips to the plate. Ruiz has good bat speed, as well as the ability to spray the ball to all fields. In time, I think his well-distributed weight and strength will lead to much more loft and increased power production. He has a good advantage being a left-handed-hitting third baseman.

There are times I've seen Ruiz lose concentration or take his previous at-bat onto the field. I would classify him as average to a tad below average on defense at this point.

Ruiz has the physicality to become a better-than-average offensive force. He projects to hit for average and become a solid gap hitter with enough power potential to justify a role at third base. His on-base percentage can become a real asset if he continues to recognize pitches quickly and correctly.

He is smoothing out his swing mechanics and learning to target pitches he can drive. This past year, balancing his weight and repeating his swing are both factors that contributed to his improvement from the Arizona Fall League to the regular season. There clearly is more upside in his offense.

I find this interesting: When he was 16, Ruiz hit a two-run home run at Dodger Stadium in a Southern Section Division 4 Championship Game. Not many can say they homered at a big league park at that young age.

Ruiz, who saw a decline in his performance against left-handed pitching in 2015, will need to improve his concentration and work hard to overcome the advantage same-side pitchers have with him at the plate. He has to become more than a fastball hitter. He is also a slow runner.

Defensively, Ruiz needs a quicker first step to the ball and better overall footwork at third base. While his range isn't always good, he can overcome his tardiness with his strong and accurate arm-the same strong arm he used to close games as a high school pitcher.

The future
Ruiz projects to become a strong hitter for average. He has adjustments to make, but the Braves have gathered a fine group of young athletes to carry them to the future in their new park. Ruiz can certainly be among them if he makes progress on repeating a good swing and if his power continues to develop. If he can hold his own defensively, he can become an everyday third baseman.

Ruiz in a word

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.
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