Keibert Ruiz was ready to sign the reported 8-year/$50M extension he agreed to with the Washington Nationals this weekend as soon as he saw the offer from the club, which had acquired him from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline in 2021, and made him their No. 1 catcher in his first full season in the majors last summer.
“I said yes right away!” the 24-year-old catcher, who’ll turn 25 in July, told reporters in the press conference announcing his long-term extension on Saturday in West Palm Beach.
“But we waited a little bit. And I’m just happy for this moment and for everything. Just got to move forward and keep working hard.”
Ruiz played in 112 games total in 2022, in his first full season in the majors, starting in a total of 98 games behind the plate, and putting up a .251/.313/.360 line, 22 doubles, seven home runs, 30 walks, and 50 strikeouts in 433 plate appearances, throwing out 20 of 71 would-be base-stealers (28% CS%), and posting a .992 fld%, with seven errors on the season (three of them fielding, four throwing), and four passed balls, finishing the year at -5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) as a rookie.
He also, “.., picked off four runners at first base,” as the club noted in their 2022 Season in Review, “tied for the most in Major League Baseball with Colorado’s Elias Díaz and New York’s (AL) Jose Trevino,” and his, “four pickoffs were tied for the most in a single season in Nationals’ history (2005-pres.) with Brian Schneider in 2005.”
Though his season ended prematurely, with a testicular contusion in early September, the young catcher finished the year, “... ranked [high] among [NL] catchers in hits (5th, 99), doubles (5th, 22) and extra-base hits (T6th, 29),” and he was on a roll at the plate at the time of the injury, hitting, “…safely in 14 of his final 19 games, .300 (18-for-60), with four doubles, one homer, six RBI[s], six walks, one stolen base, and seven runs scored during [that] stretch.”
As impressed as they are with what Ruiz has to offer now, GM Mike Rizzo told reporters in the press conference announcing the deal they still see upside in the catcher as he gets a bit more of the experience he needs over the next few years.
“He’s a player that proved at the minor league level he was one of the top prospects in the game,” Rizzo explained, as he sat on Ruiz’s right, with manager Davey Martinez on the left side of the catcher on the dais Saturday afternoon.
Ruiz came up late in 2021, after the trade which sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to LA in return for four prospects: the catcher, right-hander Josiah Gray, prospect Gerardo Carrillo, and minor league outfielder Donovan Casey. Ruiz debuted with the Dodgers in 2021, but he was the everyday receiver in D.C. from the start last season.
“We brought him up early in his career, he was thrown into a situation where strange city, strange organization, strange pitching staff, and I thought he handled himself remarkably last year,” Rizzo added. “I think that he came into this winter and this offseason, into Spring Training in more of leadership mode, even before we started talking about any type of extension and that type of thing, and it gave me the onus to really think hard about who we want to lock into these positions and to build this team around, and I think that when you get kind of the general of this team, which is the catcher, and those players up the middle, I think it’s important that those are the guys that grow into a leadership role. And I can see that for Keibert.”
It’s not just his work behind the plate, or with a bat in his hands, but those skills are there too.
“Along with the physical skills. He’s a switch-hitting catcher, makes good contact, he had a good season last year of throwing out potential base-stealers, worked with Davey and [Catching and Strategy Coach] Henry Blanco really, really hard on becoming a catcher every day, which is a very difficult thing to do.”
“Just the character and make-up of the person gave me confidence that this would be a good move for the organization.”
HIs manager got a close look at what the catcher has to offer last season, and saw him grow and develop as the year went along.
“I’ve often mentioned about him growing last year, maturing a little bit,” Martinez said. “I’ve always said this about him: I think eventually he will be one of our leaders in that clubhouse.
“He’s very soft-spoken, but when he speaks he’s really good, and he really means what he says.
“I’m really happy for him, I’m really happy for his family. We often talk about how we invest in players, and I think it’s kind of the other way. He’s investing in us for long-term and that means a lot, it really does.”
Ruiz, for his part, was just happy to be in the majors last season, following six seasons in the minors after he signed with LA out of Venezuela in 2014.
“That was my first experience being in the big leagues, and if I can do that, I can do better things than that,” Ruiz said.
“I know I can do it, I’ve just got to work hard every and the work is going to pay off, and first of all I want to keep my defense first and then hitting.
Some details here on Keibert Ruiz’s deal. It’s a creative contract to front load it, presumably for more spending when (if?) the payroll gets higher during those free agency years. https://t.co/CB7d1NHO1B— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) March 11, 2023
“If I can help my pitchers throw 5-6 innings, I know we’re going to be good, we’re going to win games.”
“Seven,” his manager joked, meaning getting the starters through seven innings, rather than just 5-6.
“Seven, eight,” Ruiz riffed. “But yeah, that’s my goal this year, make those pitchers look good and I know my bat is going to be there.”
He has a long-term goal of winning a World Series and bringing another championship back to the nation’s capital, but also knows it’s about the day-to-day grind, and that’s where he’ll keep his focus.
“I’ve got to take it step by step and season by season, do my job every day, and help this team win a World Series. That’s my goal too,” Ruiz said.
“I’ve been working my whole life for this moment. And you’ve just got to keep going. This is, for me, just the start. I’ve got to take responsibility and help this team win.”
What’s the first thing he’s going to buy after signing the $50M extension?
“Taco Bell,” Ruiz joked. “Maybe I want to buy a house for my family, my mom and dad and just keep them safe.”