Considering what slugger Darin Ruf accomplished in 2012, it was probably going to be difficult to replicate that kind of success at a higher level this year.
Expectations were high and Ruf may be the first to admit that he hasn't necessarily lived up to the hype in the first three weeks of the season. But after Sunday's breakout performance, his characteristic rusty start could be behind him.
Phillies' No. 16 prospect went 4-for-5 with two homers, two doubles, five RBIs and three runs scored in Lehigh Valley's 12-7 road win over the Louisville Bats.
Ruf plated rehabbing Phillies outfielder Delmon Young with a two-out double to center field in the first inning, then clobbered a two-run homer to left-center off Bats starter Pedro Villarreal with one out in the third.
Ruf led off the fifth with his third homer of the season off Nick Christiani and, after striking out in the seventh, doubled home Cody Asche with two outs in the ninth.
The 26-year-old outfielder raised his average 39 points to .244 and increased his RBI total to 12. Ruf had 24 total bases over the first three weeks of the season, the recorded 12 on Sunday.
"I'd like to be squaring up a few more balls than I am, but if I'm meant to hit home runs, I'll eventually do that," Ruf told The (Allentown) Morning Call on Saturday. "The more at-bats I get at this level, the more comfortable I'll get with how they're pitching me and what adjustments I have to make."
Ruf led the Minor Leagues with 38 homers last year, breaking Ryan Howard's single-season record at Double-A Reading. He led the the Eastern League with 104 RBIs, 61 extra-base hits, a .620 slugging percentage and .408 on-base percentage en route to being named MVP and Rookie of the Year.
The Creighton University product also was named an Eastern League mid- and postseason All-Star and a Topps Double-A All-Star. Dubbed "Babe Ruf" by teammates, he made the jump to the Majors and hit .333 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 12 games.
But slow starts, especially when it comes to his power numbers, aren't exactly new.
Ruf went deep only twice in his first 28 games last spring before hitting 36 homers in the next 118 contests. In 2011, he hit four of his 17 homers before the Florida State League All-Star break. In 2010, he left the yard once in his first 74 at-bats, while he was homerless in his first 27 games as a rookie in 2009.
In fact, only nine of Ruf's 80 Minor League homers have come in April. And the three he's hit this year represent a high for the month as a pro.
That said, he was hitting .373 at this point last year, .271 through his first 19 games in 2011 and .311 for Class A Lakewood in 2010.
"He didn't really start putting up numbers until the weather warmed up last year," Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan told the newspaper, adding, "I am not worried about Darin Ruf. He'll be what we need him to be."
With Howard penciled in at first base in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future, Ruf has been getting regular reps in the outfield. He's played 15 games in left field, five at first base and one as the IronPigs' DH.
Ruf's heroics on Sunday helped Zach Miner (1-1) register his first win. The big league veteran allowed a run on three hits and a walk over three innings in relief of starter Cesar Jimenez, who fanned five batters and gave up a run on three hits over four innings.
Cesar Hernandez homered and tripled out of the No. 2 spot in the Lehigh Valley lineup, while Leandro Castro and pinch-hitter Josh Fields also went deep.
Villarreal fell to 0-2 after surrendering six runs on eight hits over 2 2/3 innings. Mike Hessman collected three hits, including two doubles, and scored twice, while Reds No. 10 prospect Henry Rodriguez went 3-for-4 with an RBI.