Brace yourselves, Keibert Ruiz looks like he’s about to become the hottest topic, at least in the non-Juan Soto category, for the Washington Nationals in the early going this season.
After finishing Spring Training with a bang, including two home runs in his last two games down in Florida, the young catcher was able to carry that form over into the first regular-season series of the year against the New York Mets.
In his three games so far this season, Ruiz has gone 4-for-11 with a double at the plate, but digging deeper than that, the backstop hit just one ground ball, and he has yet to hit a ball softly.
With the bat, he already looks at home behind the Nationals’ big boppers in the batting order.
With the glove, Ruiz impressively caught Starling Marte stealing in the first inning of the season — Marte led the majors in stolen bases last season with 47 and was only caught five times, he’s not an easy man to catch stealing — and had to make multiple smooth tags at home plate.
It’s only the first series of the season, but Ruiz is showing why he belongs at this level, and people are starting to notice that they might have something promising on their hands.
“Really, really good,” manager Dave Martinez said of Ruiz’s overall game. “He threw Marte out, which is tough to do, in the first inning, but he blocked some balls [Thursday], and he hit the ball well.
“I said this all along, I really like him offensively, and he’s learned so much from Henry [Blanco] catching back there, and you can see that his hard work has paid off already.”
Yes, it’s only one series, one of the smallest sample sizes possible to read anything into.
However, his approach to the games so far, both offensively and defensively, has already shone through despite most of the team failing to impress at all.
It’s not a shock to the Nationals though, who have had high expectations for Ruiz ever since they acquired him at the trade deadline last season.
When the Los Angeles Dodgers inevitably came calling about Max Scherzer and Trea Turner with Washington out of contention, General Manager Mike Rizzo locked in on Ruiz as a potential blue-chip prospect who they could see growing into a franchise cornerstone.
“Not only did we get a very talented, impactful player, we got that at a position that we really needed it,” Rizzo said of Ruiz just after the deadline.
“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.
“I think that he 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.”
As Rizzo alluded to, when the Nats acquired Ramos from the Minnesota Twins in 2009, he was considered a huge prospect coup with the team in a similar spot to the one they find themselves in now, trying to rebuild and find foundational players for the next competitive roster in D.C.
During his time in the nation’s capital, Ramos slashed a solid .268/.313/.430, became an All-Star, won a Silver Slugger, and helped guide a pitching staff which was often one of the best in baseball.
Though there were definitely bigger stars on the team while Ramos was there, nobody can deny the impact the man affectionately known as The Buffalo had on the Nationals.
If Ruiz has that sort of tenure with the Nationals, the front office will be pretty happy.
The thing is, they think that once Ruiz is fully developed, he will probably end up being better than Ramos was. They see the 23-year-old becoming a frontline catcher, offensively and defensively, who is a multiple-time All-Star and becomes an impact bat in the heart of their order.
So, what else does Rizzo want to see from Ruiz to keep progressing towards that lofty ceiling?
“Like I said in Spring Training, to me what he does off the field is important, his preparation and his willingness to give to his pitching staff I think is really important,” Rizzo explained.
“He has the skills, he’s a good offensive player, he’s a good defensive player, he blocks well, he frames pitches well, he throws well, and now we have got get him to be a game-caller, and I think that’s the next step in his progression.”
That’s what this season is primarily going to be about, as the first series of the season only emphasized, the Nationals are a long way from competing.
Instead, they need to use this time to get some of their younger players, including Ruiz, ready for the next step in their development.
Hey, it’s not all going to be doom and gloom this season! There are always some positives.
With a strong finish last season, as well as plenty of positive signs in the early going this year, Ruiz looks like he’s about to take off and establish himself as a pillar for this franchise.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you that this was coming...