SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Giants manager Gabe Kapler asked his hitting coaches which players they’d like to see more of in Cactus League games, all three mentioned minor league free-agent Darin Ruf.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise the coaching staff is eager to evaluate Ruf considering the gaudy numbers he posted during three seasons with the Samsung Lions in the Korean Baseball Organization and the changes he’s implemented in an effort to shorten his swing.
What should come as a surprise is how easy Ruf makes hitting look. In six at-bats this weekend, Ruf recorded six hits, five of which went for extra bases. The burly slugger launched a pair of towering home runs and pelted the center and right field walls with a combined three doubles.
For Ruf, the results in victories over the White Sox and Mariners are encouraging signs that his success could translate back to the major leagues.
“It’s better than struggling and struggling and then doubts creep into your head if it’s something that will work or if I need to make another adjustment,” Ruf said. “It’s good to know I picked it up fairly quickly.”
For the Giants, the results lead to big-picture questions as to whether Ruf can thrive if given a chance to face tougher pitchers on a more consistent basis.
“I think the success that Darin Ruf is having, particularly to the middle of the field, the extra-base power that he’s displaying is very encouraging,” Kapler said. “At the same time, we understand that these are spring training games and that should be taken into consideration as well.”
At 33, Ruf is not an up-and-coming prospect or a lifelong minor leaguer looking for his big break. From 2012-2016, Ruf appeared in 286 games with the Philadelphia Phillies as he belted 35 home runs and posted a cumulative .747 OPS, which is about 20 points above the league average during that time period.
In 2017, Ruf left MLB to sign with the Samsung Lions where he homered 86 times over three seasons. The pitching talent in Korea isn’t on par with what Ruf saw in the majors, but plenty of pitchers have emerged from the KBO to have prolonged success in the United States.
“(Pitchers in Korea) would probably lean heavily on their off-speed a lot, a lot of fork balls and split pitches, things that work up and down as opposed to side to side,” Ruf told the NBC Sports Bay Area broadcast during Sunday’s game. “They have a lot of good spin-rate with their four-seam fastballs.”
Ruf said “a lot of factors,” led to his return home this winter, but he knew he would have to earn his way back into the major leagues. Instead of signing a guaranteed deal, Ruf agreed to a minor league contract with the Giants that included an invitation to spring training.
The Giants saw Ruf’s .968 OPS in the KBO and realized he could be a strong platoon option for a power-starved lineup, but since the beginning of spring training, Kapler has stressed how difficult it is to evaluate a player’s potential based on statistics accumulated outside the major leagues.
“Openly, I don’t think it’s easy to evaluate performance in Korea,” Kapler said. “I don’t think it’s easy to evaluate performance in winter ball, I don’t think it’s easy to evaluate performance in Japan, in spring training or in September. Part of the reason it’s so difficult to hit at the major league level in the middle of the season is because that’s when you see the best dogs at their best.”
At the beginning of the spring, the Giants likely envisioned a scenario in which Ruf could open the season as a part-time first baseman and corner outfielder at Triple-A Sacramento where he would have an opportunity to provide organizational depth. But with 10 hits in his first 22 Cactus League at-bats and a stunning 1.045 slugging percentage, the Giants may have to give serious consideration to keeping Ruf on their Opening Day roster.
“I think maybe I’m a smarter hitter,” said Ruf, when asked about the differences in his game from when he left for Korea to now. “I’ve been gone for three years. You learn how to adjust to a different game and different pitching so it’s good to know you can still make adjustments and be successful.”
The primary issue Ruf faces is that he’s blocked at his two primary positions, first base and left field. The Giants plan to give Brandon Belt, Wilmer Flores, Hunter Pence and Alex Dickerson the vast majority of at-bats at those spots, so it’s unclear where Ruf would play.
With 26-man rosters, the Giants could keep Ruf on the bench as a pinch-hit option, but doing so may prevent him from establishing a consistent rhythm at the plate.
The Giants think it’s hard to know how Ruf would fare against elite major league pitchers, but if he continues to rip through the Cactus League, they may have to start thinking about creative ways to assure he’ll have a chance to fortify a lineup that’s been so power-deficient in recent years.
Beede, Carasiti have appointments
Giants starter Tyler Beede (UCL sprain, right flexor strain) is in Los Angeles on Monday to meet with Dr. Neal ElAttrache, a specialist at the Kerlin-Jobe Institute who has performed hundreds of surgeries on major league players.
Beede is dealing with a serious elbow injury that will force him to miss Opening Day and could prevent him from pitching for an extended period of time, but the right-hander expressed optimism after his initial diagnosis that he won’t need Tommy John surgery.
The Giants expect to know more about the severity of Beede’s injury and his rehab plan following his appointment.
Minor league free-agent and non-roster invitee Matt Carasiti has a more significant elbow injury than Beede and is set to undergo Tommy John surgery in San Francisco on Monday. Giants head orthopedist Ken Akizuki will perform the operation.
Carasiti pitched in five games for the Giants this spring and injured his elbow in his last outing against the Indians on Thursday.
Published at Mon, 09 Mar 2020 17:09:20 +0000