The Dodgers optioned catcher Keibert Ruiz to Triple-A on Monday, with a corresponding move to follow before Tuesday’s series opener against Seattle. Ruiz singled and scored in five at-bats as the designated hitter for Oklahoma City on Monday, his most playing time in weeks.
To begin the Dodgers’ 10-game road trip, Ruiz was on the taxi squad, then was activated before the series opener in Chicago. He played in five of the six games he was active, going 1-for-6 with four strikeouts, including a home run in his first at-bat, just like last year. All of his major league at-bats this season have come in reserve, including four pinch-hit at-bats.
“I just try to be mentally ready, and hit in the cage, hit against the machine, and try to keep my mind in the game when I’m not hitting,” Ruiz said Saturday in Anaheim.
Ruiz has been a top-100 prospect in MLB four years running, and doesn’t turn 23 until July. Monday was his 10th career Triple-A game, though he spent the bulk of the 2020 season at the alternate training site at USC against advanced competition, when he wasn’t in the majors.
Having the taxi squad available for road trips, the Dodgers have a balancing act of wanting their young, prized catcher to continue to develop but also have their third-string catcher at hand if needed at a moment’s notice.
“When you’re talking about the potential for injury, or if something happened with COVID, to have a catcher here is important,” manager Dave Roberts said Saturday. “I think if you’re just looking on the surface of making a better ballplayer, taking at-bats, it probably doesn’t add up. But if you kind of bake everything in, it’s something that we need to do, and I think we’re still doing a good job of getting him his at-bats, and then having that experience as a big league ballplayer going on the road with us.”
“I got a chance to talk to Austin Barnes, ask our pitchers what they like to throw and how they like to pitch,” Ruiz said. “Having the opportunity to talk to [Barnes] is really good.”
With Ruiz active for the Dodgers in Anaheim, he missed the first four games of the Triple-A season. He hasn’t played any other position that catcher or DH as a professional. He said he’d be open to playing other positions, but that he hasn’t played the outfield since he was 14.
Roberts quickly dismissed the idea of Ruiz moving off catcher, saying only, “If anywhere else I could see him potentially at first base, but we haven’t got to that point.”
Which means for Ruiz, his path to regular playing time in the majors with the Dodgers depends on something happening to Will Smith or Barnes, both of whom are entrenched in their roles.
“I can’t control that,” Ruiz said. “I just got to keep working hard, being ready for whatever opportunities, wherever they are. When it comes, I have to do my job.”