Carlos Ruiz’s career stats aren’t that impressive—he’s hit 15 home runs and is batting only .249.
Yet, since the 2008 World Series, Ruiz has raised his level of performance, giving the Phillies flexibility at the catcher position, as well as other roster spots.
In Game Three against the Tampa Bay Rays, Ruiz hit a home run and a walk-off single. His series average was an astonishing .375, second only to Jayson Werth among Phillies starters.
While fans were jubilant about the championship, and pleased with Ruiz’s play, they still figured his time was limited. Top 10 prospect Lou Marson was waiting in the wings and his potential is much greater than Ruiz’s.
In Marson’s first game as a Phillie in September 2008, he went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. Baseball America also considers him the team’s best defensive catching prospect.
Marson’s ability on both offense and defense left Ruiz’s future with the team, at least as a starter, in question. Still, Ruiz again won the job in spring training and has since been one of the Phillies’ most consistent performers.
He is hitting .305, good for second on the team behind Raul Ibanez and better than All-Star Chase Utley.
His defense has also been much-improved this year. He’s gotten better at blocking the plate, preventing runs, and has thrown out 10-of-22 base runners attempting to steal.
Also helping Ruiz’s case are the performances from the Phillies' other minor league catching prospects.
Travis D’Arnaud—with low Single-A Lakewood—is rated as the seventh best Phillies prospect by Baseball America. This season, he has hit seven home runs and has a .363 slugging percentage.
Joel Naughton has hit six home runs for the high Single-A Clearwater Threshers.
Tim Kennelly, also on the Threshers, is second on the team in both batting average (.304) and RBI (29).
Tuffy Gosewisch, playing for the Double-A Reading Phillies, has been invited to spring training the past two seasons.
What does all this mean? The Phillies have plenty of trade bait they can use to help out the starting rotation.
Most recently, Brett Myers was put on the 15-day DL and is expected to undergo season-ending hip surgery.
Cole Hamels has battled through a number of minor injuries early in the season, and his poor injury history raises concern for the team’s ace.
The 46-year-old Jamie Moyer has lost the magic he pitched with last year and looks like he is finally at the end of his career.
Joe Blanton, though he has pitched well his past few starts, still has an ERA of 5.86.
Chan Ho Park was ineffective as a starter before being banished to the bullpen.
J.A. Happ, Antonio Bastardo, Andrew Carpenter, and Carlos Carrasco are all still too young and inexperienced to rely on.
And Kyle Kendrick is still getting his form back together in Triple-A after faltering for Philadelphia down the stretch last season.
If the Phillies plan to defend their NL Championship as the season drags on, they need to get another starting pitcher. Having another effective starter will also help take some pressure off the bullpen, keeping it fresh throughout the season rather than overworked.
Grabbing an average starter from another team isn’t enough either—The Phillies have a slew of average pitchers right now. They need to go out and get a legitimate No. 1 or 2 starter.
They don’t come cheap, though.
This is where Ruiz’s abilities come in. With his standout play behind home plate and the depth of the position in the minors, top prospect Marson, once thought to be untouchable, now becomes expendable.
Marson can be packaged with a few other prospects in order to get any of the top-line pitchers who could be on the market, including Jake Peavy, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt.
While it would not be ideal to let Marson go, the Phillies will have to give something to get something.
With the aforementioned pitchers, you know you will be getting something of value in return for a top prospect, unlike in past seasons when the Phillies acquired average pitchers with question marks in their games like Blanton and Kyle Lohse.
Ruiz’s breakout play this season now gives the Phillies the flexibility they did not have in the past.
Ruiz has done more than enough to earn the starting catcher job, allowing the Phillies to package any of their top catching prospects, including Marson, for a top of the line pitcher without worrying about jeopardizing the position now or in the long run.
If they do trade Marson, the Phillies can be confident that Ruiz will man the fort while the other prospects take their time to develop.
If they don’t make the trade, then the organization will face a difficult decision in the near future, because Ruiz is proving he is an everyday catcher.