Rio Ruiz began the 2016 season with Triple-A Gwinnett looking to rebound from his disappointing 2015 performance in which he posted a .657 OPS with Double-A Mississippi. The change of scenery paid off, as the young third baseman put together a solid season. As one of the youngest players in the International League, he had 10 home runs, 62 RBI and a .755 OPS over 133 games. He continued to draw walks (11.4 percent walk rate) but also struck out in nearly 22 percent of his plate appearances. He was called up to the big leagues for a cup of coffee in late September. Despite being a part of perhaps the best farm system in baseball, Ruiz is one of only a few notable Braves prospects who are nearly big league ready. The smart money is still on Ruiz falling a tad short with the stick to profile as an everyday third baseman. Fortunately for him, he should get his chance soon, presumably whenever the Adonis Garcia experiment comes to a close.
Ruiz went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI in Saturday's Grapefruit League game against the Tigers. He continues to enjoy a strong spring, hitting .326/.396/.442 through 43 at-bats and taking full advantage of the playing time made available by Adonis Garcia's hamstring strain. Garcia is expected back in the lineup by Monday, and Ruiz is still likely ticketed for Triple-A Gwinnett to begin the regular season, but the positive impression he's made in camp should make the 22-year-old the first hitter called up when the Braves need corner infield help.
Ruiz went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts and a solo home run in Saturday's split-squad game against the Phillies. The blast was his first of the spring, and Ruiz hasn't looked out of place in camp so far, going 4-for-14. He's stuck behind Adonis Garcia on the Braves' depth chart at third base and should begin the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, but Ruiz could be a fantasy factor later in the year if Garcia slumps or gets hurt.
Ruiz will compete for a spot on the Braves' 25-man roster in spring training, but is expected to begin the season back at Triple-A Gwinnett. Adonis Garcia has been a serviceable, if low-upside, option for the Braves at third base over the last two seasons, but Ruiz has yet to show he can be an upgrade. The Braves have plenty of veteran bench options capable of filling in at third if Garcia stumbles, so Ruiz would need a big spring to force the organization to consider him for the Opening Day assignment instead. He is still only 22, though, and with a youth movement underway in Atlanta, a hot start at Gwinnett could see him up for good later in 2017.
Ruiz's contract was purchased from Triple-A Gwinnett late Friday, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. After Gwinnett was eliminated from the International League postseason Friday night, Ruiz will get his first taste of the big leagues, a promotion he earned with a bounce-back season in the minors. After slashing .233/.333/.324 at Double-A Mississippi last season and losing some of his prospect luster, Ruiz churned out a .355 on-base percentage to go with 10 homers and 62 RBI across 533 plate appearances with Gwinnett this season. Adonis Garcia will likely continue to see the bulk of the starts at third base over the final two weeks of the season, but Ruiz could be afforded a couple of looks the rest of the way as the Braves look to assess their young options heading into 2017.
Ruiz, 22, is batting just .200 with five RBI over his last 10 games for Triple-A Gwinnett. After a hot start, Ruiz is now batting just .260. He also has only two home runs in 44 games. The Braves have a huge hole at third base, but Ruiz is not making a case for a promotion at this time.