Ruf ready to take next step if given shot with Phils
Young slugger receives Jim Bauman Trophy for leading Minors in home runs
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A lot of people started to believe in Darin Ruf last season.
But do the Phillies?
Do they believe in him enough to give him a shot to play in 2013?
Ruf celebrated his first wedding anniversary Monday at the Winter Meetings in Nashville by accepting the Jim Bauman Trophy for leading the Minor Leagues in home runs. Ruf had an incredible year, hitting 38 home runs at Double-A Reading, three with the Phils and 10 in winter ball in Venezuela. His eye-popping production has propelled him into the mix for a job with Philadelphia come Opening Day. But how much Ruf enters into that equation (and what job) depends on the offseason moves the Phillies make before holding their first workouts in Clearwater, Fla., in February.
Ruf will be ready to compete, regardless of what happens.
"I've kind of always had the mindset that they'll give me an opportunity to show what I can do in Spring Training," he said at the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. "I need to take advantage of it. I don't think it really matters who they sign, what they do. If I can show that I can help the team in some way, if that's starting every game, if that's playing first base here and there, if it's doing anything, they'll give me that opportunity."
The Phillies desperately need a right-handed bat with some power. They had hoped for B.J. Upton, but he signed with the Atlanta Braves. A source told MLB.com on Monday the Phils have interest in Rangers infielder Michael Young, who would play third base. They also could have some interest in Chicago Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano and Colorado Rockies outfielder Michael Cuddyer, two players they have tried to acquire in the past.
But couldn't Ruf be that guy?
He already is on the 40-man roster, and he would not cost Philadelphia anything. But there is some risk there. Ruf had a great 2012, but he isn't a sure thing to repeat that success at the big league level in '13. That is why the Phillies are looking for a big bat or two. If they can find those bats externally, they would feel more comfortable giving Ruf a shot.
"We're trying to shore up some of those question marks with someone we'll know will be more consistent and more experienced and with better track records," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Our job is to try to put the best possible team we can put on the field. That's the challenge. Do you shore up a couple of outfield spots to give guys a chance to battle out in one spot? I'd rather that happen in one or two spots rather than three or four."
Some of Ruf's teammates seemed to think he could repeat his success, though.
"You're that guy," former Phils outfielder Juan Pierre told Ruf last September. "They're going to have to fill holes next year and you want to be that guy."
Ruf, who is a natural first baseman, also needs to prove he can handle the outfield. He played regularly there in Venezuela, and he said he is getting more comfortable. If that is true, that is good news.
"I'm getting to balls I didn't think I'd be able to get to," Ruf said. "Knowing a little bit more maybe what I can and can't get to. But I know I still have areas I can improve in the outfield."
Said Amaro: "He's going to get an opportunity to play a lot. We'll see what he does. He has a long ways to go in the outfield. But he's committed to doing it. We'll see. ... It's tough to evaluate in Spring Training. The eyes will tell you whether the guy has improved enough to play. Hopefully we'll find out a little bit more if he's polished enough to handle it on the offensive side of the game too. He's kind of jumped onto the scene. But he has an element in his game that doesn't come around very often, and that's power. It's not just because he hit 20 home runs in a month [in August]. He had productive at-bats and continued to improve throughout the year. That's a good sign. He hit well in a league with good pitching."
Ruf will head back to Nebraska for the rest of the offseason before getting to Clearwater some time in January.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.