A power bat emerges at winter meetings
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NASHVILLE – Was that the righthanded power hitter that the Phillies seek walking right down the hall at the Opryland Hotel on Monday afternoon?
Darin Ruf, fresh off an eight-month baseball journey that saw him club 52 home runs in three leagues on two continents, stopped by the winter meetings to receive the Joe Baumann Trophy, presented annually to minor-league baseball’s home run king.
Ruf was accompanied by his wife, Libby, on the couple’s first wedding anniversary, and he received congratulations at a luncheon from Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr.
Ruf, 26, hit 38 homers for Double A Reading in 2012. He added another in the playoffs, three in the majors and 10 more in the Venezuelan winter league on his way to 52 for the calendar year. In 139 games at Reading, he hit .317 with 38 homers and 104 RBIs on his way to winning the Eastern League MVP award.
The affable Ruf is still beaming over his work in 2012.
“I never hit more than 17 homers in a season, so it’s special,” he said. “I worked hard in the offseason to have the results that I did.”
One of the nice parts about Ruf’s tale is that back in spring training he believed 2012 might be his last season in pro ball. He was a non-prospect pushing 26 years old.
Ruf not only earned himself a job for 2013, he played himself onto the Phillies’ blueprint as a candidate to make the opening day roster.
A first baseman by trade, Ruf is obviously blocked by Ryan Howard at the big-league level. He began playing left field late in the Double A season and appeared there in six games with the Phillies in September. He played regularly in left field for six weeks in Venezuela before calling it a season – and heading home for some well-earned rest – just before Thanksgiving.
Ruf said he feels more comfortable and confident in left field, and though he’s still learning the position, he believes he can compete for a job in the Phillies’ outfield in spring training. The Phillies have been looking for an outfield power bat – and still are. They would be thrilled if Ruf became a legitimate option.
“I still need work,” he said. “I plan on getting outside as much as I can this winter (at home in Omaha, Neb.), and I’m going to be in spring training at least three weeks early working out on the field. They’re going to give me an opportunity in spring training and I need to take advantage of it. It doesn’t matter who they sign. If I show I can help the team whether it’s in the outfield or occasionally at first base – if I can help, if I prove I can handle it, I think I’ll get an opportunity.”
At least one of Ruf’s former teammates with the Phillies believes he can be a big-league contributor. Ruf revealed that Juan Pierre continually encouraged him in September. No surprise. Pierre is one of the classiest and most selfless guys to come through Philly in years. His presence will be missed.
“Juan would say, ‘They’re going to have some holes. You can be that guy. You want to be that guy,'" Ruf recalled. “He was a big influence on me.”
Pierre’s encouragement will carry Ruf into some well-earned winter downtime – and on into the biggest spring training of his life come February.E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com