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2018 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Rio Ruiz

Back before the 2015 season, the Braves traded Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros, receiving both Mike Foltynewicz and Rio Ruiz (as well as a third player) in return. In 2018, Mike Foltynewicz broke out in a big way. Rio Ruiz, meanwhile, continued to do very little in terms of his own progression.

After being acquired, Ruiz put up a 91 wRC+ for the Braves at Double-A, but rebounded for a much better 118 wRC+ in Gwinnett the following season. He ended up spending much of 2017 there as well, repeating with a 112 wRC+, but he also got a sizable chunk of PAs at the major league level, which went quite poorly. As a big-league Brave, Ruiz’ 2017 consisted of 173 PAs with a dreadful 54 wRC+. For a guy that was supposed to provide at least some pop, Ruiz had a really odd profile that year, beating over 56 percent of his balls in play into the ground. Of the 387 players that year with 100 or more balls in play, Ruiz was 369th with a 4.1 degree launch angle.

Ruiz got his first shot at big-league playing time between May and June of 2017, and put up a 45 wRC+ with an even-grosser 66.1 percent grounder rate. When he returned for September (splitting time with the emerging Johan Camargo), his line was only marginally better, with a 64 wRC+ and a 49 percent grounder rate.

Spring Training 2018 didn’t do much to boost his case for making the roster, and the Braves eventually settled on giving Ryan Flaherty playing time over Ruiz, and eventually went fishing in the Jose Bautista pond as well. Ruiz, meanwhile, spent the bulk of his age-24 season at Gwinnett once again, putting up only a 99 wRC+. While he did cut his strikeout rate substantially (from around 22 percent in his first go-round and around 26 percent in his second go-round to under 17 percent), he showed little pop and his walk rate also tumbled.

The Braves recalled Ruiz for a few days on August 26, and then called him up for good on September 10. In total, he got 15 PAs with Atlanta in 2018, and collected one hit (a single), two walks, and a hit-by-pitch in the process.

Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? Put up a 17 wRC+ in 15 major league PAs, while having a disappointing, mediocre season at Triple-A.

Will he be on the roster next year? Probably not the major league roster, but he might very well bum around Gwinnett for another year.

What is he going to do next year? At this point, he’s going to need to show something at Triple-A to make him worth even considering for a call-up in what seems like it will be a competitive season in Atlanta. But, he hasn’t done much in the way of that in his past three tries at the same level. Maybe the fourth time will be a charm, but it’s unlikely.

Highlight of 2018: In perhaps very Rio Ruiz-y fashion, his highlight was reaching base on an error. In a fairly meaningless game against the Mets on September 25, Ruiz came to the plate with the Braves down by two and the tying runs on base. He hit a liner to center field that was dropped by Austin Jackson. That loaded the bases, allowing the Braves to eventually take the lead after a wild pitch and a Ronald Acuña Jr. go-ahead single.

Lowlight of 2018: While it was only 15 PAs, I’ll probably say that the fact that his grounder rate was higher in 2018 than in 2017 is the real lowlight here. Not only that, but even his Triple-A grounder rate went up. One has to wonder whether one day we’ll be hearing the Chris Taylor/etc. story about Rio Ruiz when another organization gets their paws on him, or whether he knows he should be elevating but just can’t seem to do so. Because it’s getting darkly comical at this point.

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