On July 24, 2017, A.J. Preller made a big trade with the Kansas City Royals to continue his long, exciting rebuild.
The Padres sent Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter to the Royals in return for veteran starting pitcher Travis Wood, Royals’ No. 1 prospect in 2017, Matt Strahm, and infielder/outfielder Esteury Ruiz.
Travis Wood put up a 6.71 ERA while starting 11 games for the Padres in 2017 and retired from MLB after the season.
As for Strahm, he was in the middle of his second year in the big leagues when he was traded at the deadline to the Padres. The following year (2018), Strahm put up a 2.05 ERA in 45 appearances (five starts) and looked to be a massive piece for the Friars in the future. But, he turned out to be a flop.
Strahm had a rough start in 2019, then moved to the bullpen, where he became much more impactful. Strahm had a very disappointing time with San Diego, battling many injuries. The lefty was non-tendered by the Padres and picked up by the Red Sox after the 2021 year, ending Matt Strahm’s time with the Padres.
The last player involved in the return for San Diego was Esteury Ruiz. He started his 2017 minor league season with a bang, hitting .419, with a 1.219 OPS and a .779 slugging percentage. The right-handed hitter also recorded ten doubles, six triples, three home runs, and stolen nine bags in 21 games with the Royals rookie ball team.
As Esteury Ruiz moved up in the minors, his stats declined, and that was alarming to the Padres. In 2018, Ruiz took a considerable step down, only hitting .253, with a 727 OPS and a .403 slugging percentage. Ruiz put up 20 doubles, five triples, 12 home runs, and 49 stolen bases with the Padres Low-A team, the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
A prospect once considered a potential top-100 in all of baseball, Ruiz ultimately fell out of the Padres’ top-30 prospect list. In 2019, Ruiz’s OPS dropped to .657 for the Lake Elsinore Storm. The speed was still on display, but Ruiz showed little power and no ability to make consistent contact.
As he was ready to make his 2022 minor league debut at 23, Ruiz was placed on the San Antonio Missions roster (Double-A).
Ruiz started the 2022 minor leagues better than any Padres minor league player. In his first two months of the year (in 49 games), Ruiz hit for an average of .344, recorded a 1.085 OPS, and stole 37 bases. After those 49 games, Ruiz was promoted to the El Paso Chihuahuas, where his stats improved. Ruiz has done nothing but shock and surprise the organization, and he is waiting for that anticipated call-up.
Now the question remains: How is Ruiz suddenly hitting as a top-3 prospect in this system?
Esteury Ruiz’s pitch recognition over the past years has been one of the main reasons for his success. In his six years of minor league baseball, this year has been his most successful walk rate, and he has 40 walks compared to 54 strikeouts in his first 63 games. In 2018 (117 games), Ruiz had only 38 walks compared to 141 strikeouts.
Ruiz has played 54 fewer games than he did in 2018 and already has two more walks. Each year, his walk-to-strikeout ratio has been better, but he has never had success like this 2022 season. Since the Padres acquired Ruiz (2018 to 2021), he has drawn 92 walks compared to 315 strikeouts. It’s clear that Ruiz’s better eye at the plate, along with his better pitch recognition, has done nothing but help him improve at the plate.
As for his batting stance, he’s standing more straight-up than in the previous years, which could help him keep more balance on his swing. This is something to monitor.
Overall, Ruiz hasn’t made any mechanical changes to his stance or swing, as he made more changes to his game and matured. Sometimes that is all that is needed. Ruiz’s pitch recognition has allowed him to take more balls, and get better pitches to hit, which is a primary reason Esteury Ruiz has seen much more promising results than he did in the previous years.
Another game, another stolen base for Esteury Ruiz!
— El Paso Chihuahuas (@epchihuahuas) June 16, 2022
As for the future, Ruiz has an excellent chance to take over a current outfielder’s role due to their lack of performance. Trent Grisham, the Padres’ current center fielder, has been struggling at the plate the past year. It dates back to his heel injury in 2021, and the Padres could possibly look into platooning Grisham against righties and Esteury Ruiz against lefties. We will see what the Padres do as the season matures.
Learn the name of Esteury Ruiz because he could be a huge impact bat down the road for the Friars.