The 27th Dragons player to reach the big leagues, Daryl Thompson, jumped from Dayton to Cincinnati in 13 months. The 28th player on the list took much longer and passed through eight different organizations, but he did get there. Randy Ruiz
, a key member of Dragons playoff teams in 2001 and 2002, made his big league debut in 2008 with the Minnesota Twins.
Ruiz, a native of the Bronx, signed with the Reds as a non-drafted free agent out of Bellevue University in Nebraska in 1999. In 2000, he enjoyed a remarkable year with Billings in the Pioneer League under former Reds manager Russ Nixon. He hit .381 and connected on 10 home runs in 61 games. He opened the 2001 season with the Dragons and was part of a power-packed lineup. Four Dragons players off the same team all hit at least 20 home runs that season including Ruiz (20), Samone Peters (28), Wily Mo Pena (26), and Stephen Smitherman (20). Mike Calitri added 16 more. The team belted 144 homers, 24 more than any other club in Dragons history.
Ruiz, splitting his time between first base and designated hitter, drove in 92 runs and batted .268. Ruiz got 213 at-bats that season with runners on base, an amazingly high number, and batted .296 with 15 home runs in those situations. The Dragons went 82-57 to post their best record until Billy Hamilton and the 2011 Dragons went 83-57. The 2001 Dragons reached the semi-finals of the Midwest League playoffs.
Ruiz started the 2002 season in the California League with Stockton but returned to the Dragons in mid-May and finished the year in Dayton. His average improved to .302 and he added eight home runs and 49 RBI in 78 games as the Dragons cleanup hitter. The team also featured strong hitters in Edwin Encarnacion and Noochie Varner and reached the playoffs as a second half qualifier with a record of 41-29. At one point, they won 13 straight games to set a club record that still stands.
Ruiz was released by the Reds in spring training of 2003. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles organization for one season and then joined the St. Louis Cardinals. He was released by the Cards in spring training, 2004, without ever playing in their system. After a month on the sidelines, he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2005, Ruiz reached the Double-A level for the first time in the seventh year of his professional career, and enjoyed a breakthrough. He hit .349 to win the Eastern League batting title and smashed 27 home runs with Reading. He was selected as the designated hitter on the league's full-season all-star team. Following the season, he became a free agent and signed with an American League team, the Kansas City Royals. After just six games, he was released. It had to be a tough blow to overcome for Ruiz after such a great 2005 season. But nine days later, he signed with the Yankees organization and returned to Double-A with Trenton, adding 26 more homers while batting .286.
In 2007, Ruiz played with four different clubs in three different organizations, getting his first Triple-A experience. He belted 22 homers that season, marking his third straight year with at least 20.
Ruiz's big break came in 2008. He signed with the Twins and got his first real chance at a full-time job in Triple-A with Rochester. For the year, he batted .320 with 17 home runs and posted a 24-game hitting streak that was the longest on record for Rochester. But on August 1, Ruiz was promoted to Minnesota and was in the starting lineup as the designated hitter that night with the Twins in their game against the Indians at the Metrodome. What an amazing climb for Ruiz! Over 10 years in the Minor Leagues, he had played in 16 cities in nine leagues. Now he was a 30-year-old big league rookie.
Ruiz collected his first big league hit that night and enjoyed a great month in the Majors. At the end of August, he was hitting .320 in 16 games. He finished the year with a batting average of .274, used exclusively as a DH and pinch hitter. But the Twins released Ruiz after the season.
The Toronto Blue Jays signed Ruiz for 2009. After four months in Triple-A where he batted .320 with 25 home runs, Toronto called up Ruiz and gave him an extended chance in the Major Leagues. He blasted home runs in his first two games with Toronto and on September 30, he connected on two homers in the same game, adding a double, and single as well. In 33 games, he slammed 10 home runs and batted .316.
Ruiz made the Blue Jays club out of spring training in 2010, but in May, he worked out a lucrative deal with a team in Japan and spent the rest of that season and all of 2011 in the Japanese Pacific League. He returned to the U.S. for the start of 2012 in the Diamondbacks organization, then went back to Japan for the second half of the season.
Ruiz is now 35 years old and has played in more than 1,300 professional games over 14 seasons. He is currently playing winter ball in the Puerto Rico and hopes to continue his career in 2013.
Click Here for Randy Ruiz's Major League Statistics
Click Here for Randy Ruiz's Minor League Statistics
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.