Name: Norge Ruiz
Height/Weight: 6’0’’, 185
How Acquired: Signed as an international amateur free agent in Dec. 2016.
The A’s made headlines last December when they signed one of the top pitching prospects out of Cuba, right-hander Norge Ruiz. Ruiz had some obstacles to overcome in his first season in the A’s organization. Will his second season go more smoothly?
Just before the start of the new year, the A’s announced the signing of Ruiz, an international amateur free agent out of Cuba. The right-hander was a star in the Cuban Serie Nacional and pitched well on an international stage before leaving his home country in 2015 to pursue an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. The A’s reportedly gave Ruiz more than $2 million to sign.
The A’s had hoped to have Ruiz pitching in the States for the entire 2017 season, but visa issues kept him in the Dominican Republic for the first half of the season. He made his minor league debut in the Dominican Summer League on June 5 and made four appearances at that level before finally being cleared to come to the US. After one start for the A’s Rookie League club, Ruiz joined the High-A Stockton Ports.
Ruiz would make eight starts for the Ports, with mixed results. He had three excellent six-inning outings and one solid four-inning outing, an outing cut short when he was ejected for putting a foreign substance on a baseball, and three poor outings. Two of the three bad outings came at Rancho Cucamonga in a friendly offensive environment. The last of those two starts in Rancho was on Aug. 15. After allowing eight runs in three innings in that game, Ruiz landed on the DL with a right elbow strain.
All told, Ruiz finished his first season in the A’s organization with a 4.37 ERA in 57.2 innings pitched. The A’s had hoped Ruiz would be able to make-up for the innings he lost due to the visa issues and the elbow problem in the Arizona Fall League, but Ruiz developed soreness in the elbow again while preparing for the AFL and was replaced on the roster by Sam Bragg.
When Ruiz was healthy and throwing well, he featured a low-90s fastball with sink and movement, as well as three quality off-speed pitches (slider, change-up and split-fingered fastball). Ruiz can command all four of his pitches and isn’t afraid to use his off-speed pitches early in counts.
Not surprisingly – given how new he was to baseball in the US – Ruiz went through some ups and downs as he adjusted to the minor leagues. At times he went away from his fastball too early, allowing hitters to sit on his secondary pitches. His mechanics fell out of whack at times, and when he was off with his release point, he lost some of the movement on his fastball, making the pitch very hittable. He was also suspended for two weeks for doctoring the baseball. Ruiz should have a better understanding of the nuances of professional baseball in the US in 2018.
“He’s still learning how to sequence his pitches and this has hurt him at times,” 2017 Stockton pitching coach Steve Connelly said. “There is no doubt about the stuff and hopefully he comes into spring with a better understanding of how best to use his arsenal after spending instructional league with Gil.”
The biggest question surrounding Ruiz is his health. The elbow strain hasn’t yet required surgery, but it will be something the A’s monitor closely. He reported to the A’s minor league complex in Mesa, Arizona, on Monday, but he has yet to throw off of the mound. The A’s will build him up slowly this spring in hopes that he will be ready to go at the start of the regular season.
If Ruiz is healthy, he may return to Stockton to start the year but could be on a fast-track to Double-A Midland if he gets off to a good start. Ruiz will turn 24 on March 15.
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