Ruiz is looking for a better second half
At this time last year, Randy Ruiz was in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, terrorizing the Eastern League. Ruiz was seemingly on the fast track to Eastern League MVP honors, the triple crown, and a promotion to Triple A Scranton Wilkes-Barre or even Philadelphia for a September call up.
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But in late July everything changed. Ruiz was suspended 30 games for violating Major League Baseball's steroid policy for the second time and all promise of an unforgettable season was lost. Despite the suspension, Ruiz still hit 27 homeruns with 89 RBI's while winning the Eastern League batting title with an impressive .349 batting average.
"With the numbers I had going last year it was real tough to get suspended. It hurt a lot,” said Thunder designated hitter Randy Ruiz. "It was a combination of three things I think. I had the chance to win the triple crown, the opportunity to win the league MVP, and there was a possibility of getting called up to the big leagues. It effected me a lot for awhile, but you have to learn from your mistakes and I really think I have."
In the off-season, Ruiz signed a deal to play with the Kansas City Royals organization. He started the season with double A Wichita and hit .217 with two homeruns in six games. Despite the solid start to the 2006 campaign, Ruiz hit another bump in the road when Kansas City released him on April 12th, due to "character" issues.
"They had their program set over there. They had a lot of young prospects like Alex Gorden who plays first and third, and the rumors said I was a bad influence on the younger players," said Ruiz. "I was quiet and kept to myself for the most part. But I guess the organization took that the wrong way and decided to let me go. It’s just part of the game I guess."
After his release Ruiz was quickly signed by the Yankees on April 24th and sent to double A Trenton, playing in the same Eastern League where he enjoyed so much success last season. Along with the familiar surroundings of the league, Ruiz, who grew up in the Bronx, was given the opportunity to live out a childhood dream and play for the Yankee organization.
"It's cool. All my buddies are big time Yankee fans and they were really excited when they heard I signed. I grew up where I could see Yankee Stadium from my house so if I ever get the opportunity to play in the big leagues, it will be amazing to play in my hometown where all my family and friends can see me," said Ruiz.
Since arriving in Trenton Ruiz has shown flashes of last year’s success but has yet to reclaim the consistency that made him such a force. Through 52 games, Ruiz is hitting .277 with 8 long balls and 27 RBI's.
"Right now if I had to give myself a grade on my early season play, I'd have to say a D or a C. I'm still maintaining, but hopefully I can get going in the second half of the season and become an A or B student," said Ruiz.
With most power hitters, strikeouts come along with the package and that definitely rings true for Ruiz. With Wichita and Trenton combined, Ruiz has struck out 65 times while only walking 19. Thunder Manager Bill Masse feels a more patient approach at the plate will lead to better results.
"Randy likes to swing early in the count. Discipline is his biggest issue with him. When he stays disciplined and gets good pitches to hit, he's a big time hitter,” said Thunder Manager Bill Masse "Sometimes I think he starts thinking that he’s a minor league clone of Vladimir Guerrero and starts swinging at everything out of the zone. When he stays in the zone though he can really drive the ball."
With the recent promotion of Shelly Duncan, Ruiz and first basemen Eric Duncan will be asked to carry more of the offensive load for the low scoring Thunder.
"Shelly's a big whole to fill so its going to have to be a team thing, not just Randy. I know he had a tremendous year last year but I've seen a lot of players have a great season last year and then do nothing the next. But hopefully he can step up his game and drive in some more runs for us," said Masse.
"I don't think there’s any more pressure. I've been trying to do too much," said Ruiz. "Especially for a guy who almost had it all last year and now starting off so slow, but I know with Shelly in Columbus the team is going to look to me to drive in more runs and I'm ready to help."
Randy Ruiz knows he can't erase the past but he hopes that one day he can recapture the form that had him considered one of the best hitters in all of Minor League Baseball.
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