I Thought Ruggiano’s Deserved a Longer Look
Justin Ruggiano has always been a great player for the Rays each time they have decided to bring him up either short-term because of injuries, or during their Spring Training camps before finally sending him to their Triple-A affiliate as a right-handed insurance policy. Considering he was hitting .447 with 11 RBIs this Spring, I really hoped the Rays would consider him longer on the Spring roster with the question marks still over the heads of outfielders Matt Joyce, and another unimpressive Spring from fellow right-hander Gabe Kapler.
And a few of us long time Rays Republic members might remember some of Ruggiano’s past events while at the Major League level and wonder what, besides a logjam at outfielders, is keeping this guy down on the farm. Sure he let a ball fall in front of him during a game that cost the Rays a run, but he also did a full face-plant into the Leftfield padding catching a screaming line drive in 2008. And I have heard more than a few people say does he have the stats to be a Major League everyday player, but then I point people to Kapler’s same decline in stats and get the reply that “Kapler has paid his dues”.
And I hate that cliché’ when people throw that out at you. If you do not get a chance to build a foundation, how do you pay your “dues”? Sure Ruggiano got his first taste at this level in 2007 when he came up and appeared in 7 games in 2007 and went 3-14, but he did make enough of a impression that he lasted long into the 2008 Spring Training season with the Major League camp roster even with a dismal .176 Batting Average .
But I seriously thought the Rays organization might take a long and hard look at Ruggiano this year and find a way to keep him up here with the question marks I think are still lingering in Rightfield. Sure we have one portion of the platoon system firmly implanted in capable glove of Ben Zobrist, but still there is the inability of Kapler to give us that one firm reason to keep him besides a great mentoring process and clubhouse presence. And sure both of those qualities are monumental to helping build and maintaining team character, but with Kapler batting .136 this Spring…The Rays do have a viable option to Kapler in house right now.
But I also see the influx of the Rays farm system about to gobble up Ruggiano as more players get that chance to position themselves also for a shot with the big club. And here was a guy who was up with the Rays Spring team leaders in games played to this point who now will move his belongs over to the minor league clubhouse and begin his Triple-A 2010 experience. And how many Rays fans know he was the Durham Bulls Player of the Year in 2007 while hitting .309 with 20 HR 73 RBI and 26 stolen bases.
But then again, Ruggiano has always been a bit of a unknown except to some of us who watch Rays Spring and late season baseball. Who also remembers that he was the player-to-be-named-later from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the June 26,2006 trade that sent pitcher Mark Hendrickson and catcher Toby Hall and netted the Rays Dioner Navarro and pitcher Jae Seo along with Ruggiano. He is widely popular in Durham as he does play the “Rays Way” both on and off the field and is a fan favorite up at Durham Athletic Park.
But with his surge this Spring taking over the minor league player to watch role that former Rays minor league outfielder Jon Weber held onto for several Spring, I thought he might have finally broken through and showed the Rays they can take a chance on him. But instead, the Rays purged him from their Major League camp and he must rejoin his Durham Bulls Triple-A Champion teammates to begin the 2010 season.
And time is really clicking away for Ruggiano to show his stuff at the Major League level, and it has nothing to do with ability. But maybe his 2008 Rays campaign left doubt into his abilities to suffice at this level. A .197 Batting Average over 45 games of spot duty can bring up many dark clouds as to your abilities, and future projections.
With the Rays logjam at the minor league level with players developing who can play any of the outfield positions in Tropicana Field, this might be his last season to make an impact and show to the Rays or other teams he can succeed at this level, like Kapler for a long time. Right now players like Fernando Perez and even Desmond Jennings are getting the headlines and interviews instead of Ruggiano. Because of the hype concerning Jennings and the on and off again injury situations concerning Perez, the spotlight has always been a bit dim on Ruggiano.
But he is ready and able to perform, sweat and even bleed if necessary to help this Rays team in 2010. It is a shame we do not see a possibility of extracting Kapler and inserting Ruggiano into the right-handed portion of the Rightfield mix. He has the base stealing ability and the glove work to exceed Kapler, and could certainly hit better than Kapler’s 2009 .239 average with 8 HR,32 RBI and 5 steals. But then again, maybe his MLB past has haunted him, but then again how can he dispel those darkening clouds when Ruggiano is not given a chance to show his own Rays of light can also shine bright.