MiLB.com chatted with top First-Year Player Draft prospect Rio Ruiz before Monday's first round and then again after he was drafted in the fourth round Tuesday. Here is the perspective of him -- and his dad, Rudy -- the latest MiLB.com Prospective.
BEFORE MLB's First-Year Player Draft begins -- more than three hours, in fact, before the 4 p.m. PDT start time Monday -- Rudy Ruiz has lost track of his son, Rio. "He went to my brother's house early," Rudy says. "I think he's got some nervous energy."
Rio Ruiz is a right-handed-throwing and left-handed-hitting third baseman out of Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, Calif, whom one could compare to a young Eric Chavez. Like Chavez way back in 1996, Ruiz is a first-round talent with a college commitment to the University of Southern California. But his stock is sliding. Scouts are concerned with the procedure he underwent in late March to remove a blood clot near his throwing shoulder, and their bosses are concerned that father Rudy and advisor Scott Boras are eying the signing bonus of a top-10 pick.
At this moment, however, Ruiz is an 18-year-old picking at finger foods, awaiting the arrival of his nine or 10 family members to join him around the TV. "It's a big day," he says on the other end of the phone from his uncle's living room. "A lot of my baseball comes down to one day, and the day has come."
And Ruiz might actually miss hearing his name called. His doctor hasn't cleared him to play in games -- he hopes that verdict will be handed down at his June 21 check-up -- but he'll be leaving the party early to take batting practice and toss the ball around at the San Gabriel Valley All-Star game. He was made an honorary team member because of his shortened senior season.
"My dad is recording it," he says, "so I'll come back and see what happens."
Ruiz is exactly the type of prospect affected by MLB's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which sets in motion a wide range of new stipulations for what is also known as the Rule 4 Draft. Among the most important: Each team is assigned a bonus pool of money to use based on how early it picks and how many picks it has at its disposal. Two corollaries: If a team fails to sign a selection, it forfeits the ability to spend the amount of money slotted for that selection, and a team cannot go well above the slot allowance for any pick without incurring a significant penalty.
In the case of Ruiz, a team that is enamored with his bat but concerned about his health and his passion for playing collegiate baseball (he verbally committed to USC at 14) and potentially football (he quarterbacked his team before injuring his knee) might not be able to lure him away with a large bonus or a Major League contract -- the latter being another of this year's changes.
"[Scouts] were saying in the beginning of the year [I'd be] first round, but I am sure -- I am more than sure -- that I've slipped due to my injury," Ruiz says. "So now we'll just see what happens.
"Right now, I feel that it's 50-50. It's going to take something to change my mind either way. ... School, of course, is always going to be there, and pro ball is going to be there in another three years if I decided to go to 'SC. Either way, it's a win-win for me and my family."
AFTER his son has been selected with the first pick in the fourth round -- less than a minute, in fact, after he sees it flash across his computer screen at 10:45 a.m. PDT on Tuesday -- Rudy Ruiz calls Rio over. He tells him, "You got drafted by the Astros."
Ruiz, ranked 73rd and 98th among MLB.com's and Baseball America's Top 100 Draft prospects respectively, goes 129th overall to the same team that took Puerto Rican prep shortstop Carlos Correa with the No. 1 overall pick.
Where is Ruiz when he finds found out? Laying down in front of the TV watching a replay of an old ballgame.
"I didn't want to stress myself more than I already was," he says later. And when he got the news? "It was just relief -- the best word that I could say. It's over and done with now. That part is done."
The other part -- whether he will actually turn pro -- is still to come. And for Ruiz this year, it will come sooner than it did for players in his position in past years. The signing deadline for all draftees (aside from college seniors) has been moved up from Aug. 15 to July 13. This is welcomed by most, if not all, parties.
In his case, if Ruiz elects to fulfill his commitment to USC, the Trojans will find out a month sooner (and can therefore replace him in their recruiting class). Conversely, if Ruiz elects to sign a pro contract, he can start his career in earnest this summer as opposed to waiting until next spring. Some scouts maintain that the new timeline could add a year onto a player's big league career.
"You trust your body of work. This is a guy we've seen for a few years," Houston scouting director Bobby Heck explained to MLB.com. "By industry standards, [Ruiz] was kind of famous for his talent."
The afternoon after one of Heck's area scouts has called to offer congratulations -- and check up on Ruiz's medical status -- Rudy Ruiz sits in his office in Industry, a Los Angeles suburb, and the disappointment in his voice is hard to ignore, but -- despite seeing his son picked lower than he expected due in part, he thinks, to the new rules -- Ruiz sounds happy, too, even if he is being casual about it.
Though relieved, Rio wonders aloud, too. As with his dad, there's something of an empty feeling. He worked out for the Astros and wasn't shocked that Houston took him off the board -- but 28 other teams all passed on him at least twice. Three -- the A's, Twins, and Rangers -- passed six times, and two others -- the Padres and Blue Jays -- made seven picks before Ruiz was plucked.
"I wanted to go in the first round -- I really did -- but that wasn't in my control after the injury," he says. "That was up to the teams. If they took a shot at me, I wouldn't have let them down. With the Astros, I won't let them down."
Does he realize he is talking like he's made up his mind to go pro? Has he?
"I still feel it's 50-50," says Ruiz, who hopes to make his college-or-pro decision in early July. "We still have to talk about it as a family and see how everything is and how everything is going to go.
"Me being comfortable -- ultimately, that's the main thing it is going to come down to. What I want to do and what I am ready for."
Eight Major League scouts weighed in on this year's Draft class:
- Rating this year's talent pool on a scale of 1 to 10, the average response was a 4.4. This rating is likely affected by the amount of quality prospects that were available in 2011.
- Estimating how many future Major Leaguers they hope their team will haul in, the average response was six. One scout who said this number exactly offered, "I'd rather have one impact player than six fillers. Out of our six, I'd like to see one All-Star, two everyday players." Remember, the Draft shrunk from 50 rounds to 40 this time around.
- Two scouts whose teams had picks in the top 10 agreed that in five years Georgia prep outfielder Byron Buxton, who went second overall to the Minnesota Twins, will be the best position position player in his class.
- Two scouts whose teams used their first picks on pitchers agreed that in five years Stanford right-hander Mark Appel would be the best pitcher of his class. One of the scout's teams picked a hurler before Appel went eighth overall to Pittsburgh, and Appel, the expected No. 1 pick in some experts' eyes, slid because of the bonus-pool effect.
' 20 homers through 55 Minor League games should not be cheapened because he's played in the hitter-happy Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues. If we are going to nit-pick at baseball's No. 16 overall prospect, take note that while he is going deep once every 10 at-bats, he is also striking out once every 3.6. Still, he's batting .337 and reached base safely 40 percent of the time. It's hard to argue that any position player has done more to strengthen or restore his stock than Myers (Royals), who remains capable of defending at multiple positions
"Disappointing" continues to be the most appropriate word to describe No. 80 prospect Matt Dominguez (Marlins) in the batter's box. Though we're far from "lost" being the operative adjective -- he doesn't turn 23 until August -- Dominguez is batting .227 through 55 games in the PCL after batting .258 in 87 games there last year. He's also not getting on base (14 walks) regularly or driving the ball (16 extra-base hits) and even a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman (10 fielding errors) with his abilities needs to do one or the other. When will he figure it out?
Memo from Mayo
For Draft and prospects expert Jonathan Mayo's analysis, visit MLB.com's Prospects Central. Read his summation of the Draft's all-important first day.
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: "On the bus and a guy is snoring so loud I can barely hear myself plotting his death." -- Midland RockHounds hurler @SonnyGray2