Tue Mar 02 01:45pm EST
Playing for 10 organizations, Ruiz has spent most of the past 11 years in the minor leagues, accumulating nearly 1,250 hits, almost 200 home runs, a .304 batting average (including two batting titles) and a .909 OPS.
And yet, Ruiz has mostly found himself on the pay-no-mind list when it comes to the majors. He's been released five times and granted free agency four others. He doesn't really play a position. He has a very short big-league track record. He's 32 years old.
When is it time for the dream to die?
"Never, never, never," Ruiz said from Toronto Blue Jays camp. "I'm not a quitter. I have a very supportive family. We're not quitters."
This is Ruiz's third major-league spring training and general manager Alex Anthopoulos says this one might be the charm.
"I can't speak for the other places he's been, but I know we're certainly going to give him an honest shot to win the full-time DH role, or to be a guy off the bench," Anthopoulos said.
Ruiz had a cup of coffee with the Minnesota Twins in 2008 and, this past season, the Blue Jays gave Ruiz regular playing time in August and September.
The apex of his season came Sept. 30, when Ruiz went 4-for-6 with two homers against the Red Sox. In 115 at-bats overall, Ruiz responded with 10 homers among his 36 hits.
At that pace, if Ruiz were to get the same number of career at-bats as Hank Aaron, he would finish with 1,075 homers.
"[Sheesh], that's a lot of home runs," Ruiz said. "I tell you what, I'm just happy to be up here."
So, what has kept Ruiz from the majors, much to the chagrin of the blog Mopup Duty?
• He took five years as a pro to reach Double-A and another four to reach Triple-A (though he was named International League Rookie of the Year — at age 30!).
• In 2005 when he played in the Phillies system, he twice tested positive and was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs (though Ruiz says he was nailed for using Viagra).
• He hasn't always been in the best of physical shape (Ruiz notes that he dropped 8 percent body fat and 20 pounds this past winter).
• He's not about to win a Gold Glove, a factor that hurts him making a team as a bench player ("His bat is definitely his calling card," Anthopoulos said.)
• Sometimes, he's gotten impatient and filed for free agency to switch organizations because, he felt, the team was too slow to promote him (Ruiz says he'd act differently if given a do-over).
Hitters who have yet to establish themselves in the majors by the time they reach age 32 almost always don't. There are many examples of players catching on during their late 20s but just a handful after 30.
• Geronimo Berroa (right) was 29 when the Athletics finally gave him a chance to play, and he had a nice little five-year run (.798 career OPS).
• Moose Moryn hit 98 of his 101 career homers after turning 30.
• Bob Cerv was a great bench player for the Yankees until the Athletics started using him every day starting at 31.
• The best-case scenario for Ruiz's career is that he becomes a modern-day Hank Sauer. Not only did Sauer get started with the Red Legs at 31, but he became an MVP with the Cubs at 35 and finished a 15-year career with 288 homers.
Ruiz would be content simply making a roster out of spring training and going from there.
With Lyle Overbay(notes) at first base, Lind at DH, Travis Snider(notes) in left field and Jose Bautista(notes) in right (probably), the Jays either have a better player, a higher-touted prospect, or a capable defender in Ruiz's way. Same old story.
"This game is weird," Ruiz said. "You never know; I could be here one day and the next with another team."
Ruiz ended it with a major league cliché — actually, a doubleheader: "We're going to leg it out and play it by ear."
But not give up.
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