Braves prospect report: Rio Ruiz

For all the prospects the Braves have stockpiled in trades, and all the progress they’ve made over the summer, there was Rio Ruiz. The third-base prospect who came with Mike Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman from the Houston Astros for Evan Gattis, struggled from the outset with the Mississippi Braves, and then he struggled some more.

But before 2015 could count as a lost season, the 21-year-old from Covina, Calif., found something to build on. From Aug. 14-30, he hit in 15 consecutive games, when he had gone some months without getting 15 hits — (13 in April, 11 in May, 17 in July).

For this two-week span, buoyed by a playoff race for the Southern League South, Ruiz batted .362 (21-for-58), with seven doubles, two homers and 11 RBIs to raise his season average from .216 to .238.

“I tried to just play mind games with myself and say, ‘Go out and have fun, man,’” Ruiz said. “‘You’re struggling right now, things aren’t going your way, but you’re going to get one thing that goes your way. Something is going to click and you’re going to go from there.’ I just kept battling and kept working.”

The scouting reports tout Ruiz as a left-handed hitting third baseman with great power potential. Starting Double-A at age 20 — he turned 21 on May 21 — and with a new team, Ruiz admittedly tried to take that too far.

“Of course, new organization, you try to do too much,” Ruiz said. “I got in a little bit of trouble with that early. I tried to hit the ball 500 feet, and that wasn’t really me. I tried to be someone that I wasn’t.”

What he is is someone with a natural stroke to the opposite field. Left center to left field is his comfort zone, from years of honing his left-handed swing in batting practice with his father, Rudy Ruiz.

“He’d always yell and preach, L7, L7, L7, which is a line drive to left field,” Ruiz said. “So that allowed me to see the ball a lot better a lot deeper and let my hands work. Whenever I get in a struggle, I get back to the basics the best I can, and what he and I did.”

Director of player development Dave Trembley said the Braves have seen marked improvement in Ruiz’s ability to pull the ball as well, especially over the past six weeks. Ruiz pulled a ball for a three-run homer Aug. 28 in a 7-1 win over Biloxi.

“He can hit and everybody feels as if he’s finishing the season on a real positive note,” Trembley said. “And we’re all looking forward to continued improvement with him. He has a natural stroke to left center, but he can pull the ball. He uses the whole field, which I think is a real good thing for a young player.”

One thing both the Braves and Ruiz have been pleased about throughout is his progress at third base. Even when the bat wasn’t cooperating, Ruiz was working on his first-step reaction, his angles, and his alignment based on where the catcher was setting up.

“If offspeed comes, then you can cheat toward a guy pulling the ball,” Ruiz said. “Or if a lefty is going the opposite field towards you. I worked on that a lot and first-step quickness, getting to the ball and beating balls to the spot.”

Ruiz grew up an Angels fan in southern California and loved Darin Erstad. But there was a player on TV his dad always pointed out that he should watch and learn from: Chipper Jones.

“It was cool to see somebody I grew up watching and seeing — I now play for that organization as well,” he said.

As mentally tough as this first year with the Braves has been, Ruiz is glad to be finishing strong.

“Things weren’t going my way early, and they weren’t going my way even in the middle of the season,” Ruiz said. “But I had to keep going and keep fighting as best as I could. It’s all about how you finish, not how you start. I’m a firm believer in that, and I’m going to keep working.”

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