Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo compared the club’s acquisition of 23-year-old catcher Keibert Ruiz in this past July 30th’s trade deadline deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers to the July 29th 2010 trade with Minnesota’s Twins which brought one-time Nationals’ backstop Wilson Ramos to the nation’s capital.
“Not only did we get a very talented, impactful player [in Ruiz],” Rizzo explained after he’d sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to LA in return for the catcher, pitchers Josiah Gray and Gerardo Carrillo, and outfielder Donovan Casey, “we got that at a position that we really needed it. It’s one of the key positions in all of baseball, and like when we acquired Wilson Ramos in a trade, you could see what that particular position had, and the impact that position can do for a baseball team, and I think that [Ruiz] was a focal point of what we were trying to do at the trade deadline, and we identified him, and he was the main cog that we were trying to get.”
Ruiz, who debuted with the Dodgers in 2020, playing two games in the 60-game COVID campaign, and six more in the majors this year before the deal, went to Triple-A Rochester to start his time in the Nationals’ organization, but was called up at the end of August so that the club could get a good look at him over the last month while he got comfortable in D.C.
Ruiz put up a .308/.365/.577 line with six doubles and five homers in 20 games and 85 plate appearances at Triple-A Rochester, then, after a slow start at the plate once he was back up in the majors, the switch-hitting catcher finished strong, with a 20 for 53 (.377./441/.547) run, three doubles, two homers, four walks, and just one K in 59 PAs over his final 15 games of the season.
“He’s been really swinging the bat well,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said over the final few days of the 2021 campaign.
“He’s staying on the balls a lot better, he’s getting ready on time, he’s using the whole field, so just another really good night with him at the plate, behind the plate, like I said, I’m starting to watch him mature as this thing closes, so I’m excited about what he can do with 450 at-bats.”
Ruiz too said he took a little time adjusting as he went just 3 for 28 (.107.167.107) with all the hits singles, two walks, and three Ks over his first eight games and 30 PAs once he came to Washington in late August.
“Ruiz struggled early on, he wasn’t getting any hits,” Martinez said.
“And we talked to him, we stayed with him, we told him he’s going to go through spurts like that, the hits will come, you just got to make sure you have good at-bats, get ready, and all of a sudden here he goes, and he just took off, and he’s hitting the ball well now.
“We think that he can sustain that throughout a year, from both sides of the plate.”
“I think I’m not trying to do too much,” Ruiz said in a September 24th Zoom call with reporters.
“Before I was jumping a little bit and swinging at everything,” he explained.
“Right now I’m just trying to focus, and swing at my pitch, until I get to two strikes. I mean, that’s what I can control, and I’m just going to keep focused on that, keep working on that and get better every day.”
“I like the way he’s progressed,” Rizzo told reporters before the season finale.
“Ruiz has shown me things that we didn’t see when we scouted him. His attention to detail in the clubhouse with the pitcher duties that he has and the way he really cares about calling the game has been refreshing. [Catching Coach] Henry [Blanco] has had a really good — been a really good mentor to him, and Ruiz has been a hungry [student].
“That’s really impressed me about him.
“As far as offensively, he doesn’t strike out much, even at this level, and he shows that he could be a force offensively — that doesn’t come as a surprise.”
Ruiz hits 27 doubles and 24 home runs in 101 games and 412 PAs overall between the minors and majors in 2021, after he hit 30 home runs total over his previous six seasons coming up in the Dodgers’ system.
“Henry [Blanco] has been working with him on catching,” Martinez added, talking more about the improvements in Ruiz’s defensive game.
“He’s been working with him on calling games. He’s talked to Alex Avila, who has been a tremendous asset for us as far as helping with our young catchers right now, so he’s definitely learned a lot, I’m watching him improve behind the plate, blocking balls, we talk about him setting up a little earlier, a little later with guys on base, he’s doing that, he’s doing it well.”
Ruiz is still young, of course, and relatively unproven at the major league level, so there’s work to do as he continues to develop, and also learns the pitchers he’ll be working with now that he’s expected to be the No. 1 catcher in D.C.
Getting him up and playing every day down the stretch this past September was important for the catcher and the club.
“We want him to work every day here, so that when he comes into Spring Training next year he has a great idea of what he needs to do and he’s ready to go next year,” Martinez said.