It’s well known that the Orioles don’t have much infield depth at the higher levels in the minor leagues. As a result, it’s probably safe to assume that Rio Ruiz will play a major role again with the club at third base.
Ruiz was claimed on waivers from the Atlanta Braves. In 127 games, he hit .232 with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs in 2019. He had a .682 OPS.
He was responsible for perhaps the most exciting moment of last season, when his game-ending home run gave the Orioles an 8-7 win over the Houston Astros on August 11, a day after a disheartening 23-2 loss.
The 25-year-old Ruiz became a father last season and enjoyed his first extended season with the Orioles. He was sent down to the minors briefly while the Orioles added Jace Peterson as a utility player.
The stint with Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie coincided with his son’s birth.
During the offseason, the Orioles have added two players who can play third base, Dilson Herrera, who was signed to a minor league contract, and switch-hitting Richard Urena, who was claimed on waivers from Toronto earlier this month.
Urena has only played third base five times in his brief major league career. Herrera has just two big league starts there. Stevie Wilkerson, another switch-hitter who’ll try to make the team as a utility player, has four major league starts at third.
Unlike Herrera, Ruiz is a left-handed hitter but hit better against left-handed pitchers in limited action in 2019.
Ruiz hit .228 against right-handers and .250 in 68 at-bats against lefties. Eleven of his 12 home runs came against right-handers.
The closest third baseman the Orioles have in the minor leagues is Rylan Bannon, who was part of the Manny Machado trade in July 2018.
Bannon hit .317 in 20 games for Norfolk after batting .255 for Bowie. The 23-year-old, who’s listed at 5 feet 7, isn’t considered a high-caliber major league prospect. Bannon made 12 errors in 69 games at third base for the Baysox and five more in his 20 games at third for the Tides.
So, for now, it looks as if it’s Ruiz’s job at third.
“He’s more of a line drive, gap-to-gap hitter with some pop,” a major league scout said.
One of Ruiz’s strengths is his ability to hit with runners in scoring position, the scout said. Ruiz hit .306 last season with runners in scoring position.
“Did a good job going inside out with two strikes the other way, which I thought was a good thing,” the scout said. “At best, inconsistent on defense. He doesn’t throw that well from third base … He’s a fringy, average guy defensively … He’s a below average bat with occasional power.”
Unless Ruiz steps up his performance in 2020, he’s likely to be considered a placeholder until the Orioles can get a better third baseman.
The Orioles have many more priorities, especially finding more and better starting pitching. With the team they have now, Ruiz fits in well and there’s the possibility that he will improve in 2020.
Minor League signings: The Orioles signed catcher Taylor Davis and right-handed pitcher Brady Rodgers to minor league contracts on Thursday.
Davis, a 30-year-old right-handed hitter, hit .222 with a home run and seven RBIs in 20 games for the Chicago Cubs over the last three seasons.
He did not throw out any of the 13 runners who tried to steal against him.
Davis is best known for a viral video that catches him always looking into the camera.
Rodgers was a third-round pick in the 2012 draft by the Houston Astros, the first year when Orioles general manager Mike Elias was the Astros’ scouting director.
He had a 15.53 ERA in eight games with the Astros in 2016 and 2019.
There’s no word if the signings include invitations to major league camp.
SABR meeting: The annual meeting of the Baltimore/Babe Ruth Chapter of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) will be held on Sunday from 10 A.M.-4 P.M. at the Peabody Heights Brewery, 401 East 30th Street in Baltimore.
I’ll be one of the guest speakers and will talk about the outlook for the 2020 Orioles.
Registration is $35 and includes lunch and drinks.