SDI Prospect Rankings: #10 Ryan Rua

With my first article at Shutdown Inning, I am excited to begin a new tradition. Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing up reports on SDI’s top 10 Ranger prospects. All the SDI Writers gathered together and shared our individual top 10 rankings, then averaged each player’s rankings among ourselves. Ranking prospects is always tricky since there is so much up for debate. When it comes to prospect rankings more informed opinions are better. If one person makes the rankings personal, bias creeps in more easily. To get things straight I am not a scout. I do not consider myself an expert on prospects. I have spent more time than a healthy adult who isn’t getting paid to do this should researching prospects, and watching/streaming minor league games. I’ve met a few prospects and a few people who know much more about baseball than me. These words aren’t here to shock you with outlandish claims/projections; rather they are here to educate you on some young kids before they make it to The Show.

It isn’t often that a player drafted in the 17th round turns heads, however, Ranger scout Roger Coryell saw something in an Ohio junior college infielder that made him speak up. The 6’2” then shortstop at Lake Erie College played college ball in his home state of Ohio. After 533 players had already been drafted Ryan Rua had a lifelong dream fulfilled: get drafted by an MLB team.  This was the first step in an arduous journey of dream chasing. Little did he know he was only three years away from achieving that dream. I’ll get to that later.

After two unspectacular seasons split between Arizona and Spokane Rua started his 2013 campaign in Hickory North Carolina. Rua had the second most notable season of that talented Hickory squad. At age 23, Ryan Rua was a borderline organization filler given his lack of clout, added with the fact that he was just reaching full season ball. To many, age is just a number in their life. In prospect terms age is just an immensely important number.  Through 104 South Atlantic league games Ryan out homered his teammate Mr. Moonshot Joey Gallo. In July Joey went down for about a month with a leg injury allowing Rua to soar ahead and begin making a name for himself in the organization. Ryan finished his season with 23 games in Frisco. During the stint in Frisco his numbers came back down to earth somewhat. His plus raw power is evident in Rua’s slugging percentage of .525 in 525 plate appearances across two levels.

This raw power continued to show itself in games through 2014 where Ryan began in Frisco. He slugged over .475 at both Frisco and Round Rock. Rua’s plate discipline showed itself in his walk rate being just a tick under 10% through 529 plate appearances. An interesting phenomenon happened with Rua in 2014 that I’ve seen happen with quite a few other Ranger prospects. When Rua was smashing the daylights out of baseballs in Hickory, he only batted .251. The next year he hit .300 even in 288 plate appearances and .313 in 241 Round Rock plate appearances. This jump in batting average paired with reduced K rate, post Hickory, happened with Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson, and Nomar Mazara as well. Maybe this is an anomaly or maybe there is something South Atlantic League pitchers do to increase their strikeout numbers. It’s likely that these numbers are unrelated but I’d love to see Hickory set up MiLB TV so I could watch their games and see.

Since MiLB TV is rare at the lower levels I had never seen Rua play a game until 2014. I didn’t subscribe until 2014 so that also pushed it back. Had I been able to watch those games I would have seen Rua starting at a million different positions. I did go back and look at his baseball reference page which showed me the vast amount of time Rua has spent playing all across the field. Through the course of his career, Ryan Rua has started at least 10 games at every position except pitcher, center field, right field, and catcher. At the beginning of his career Rua was younger and spry enough to play short stop. Eventually someone decided to move Rua to the hot corner.

His arm strength was good enough to hold down third and his hands are smooth enough to handle second base. Even though most of his starts came at second and third, a void exists in left field that Rua could fill in 2015. Ryan’s athleticism allows him to hold down a corner outfield spot well defensively. His instincts in the field allow him to play average defense at most positions. We have seen him make a few impressive leaping grabs in the outfield but those aren’t expected very often from him. Ryan has average speed and is a heady baserunner.

This 2015 season is going to be a key one for Rua’s big league career. Left field is going to be a fight in spring training between Rua, Smolinski, and  Jared Hoying. If he doesn’t win the starting job out of camp, Rua will likely have a spot on the bench as a platoon DH with Mitch Moreland. Ryan would also likely take some at bats away from Adam Rosales since he looks to be the better offensive weapon and can hold down a corner outfield spot as well.

Fangraphs’ steamer predicts Rua to play 65 games and earn 269 plate appearances. They also predict a slash line of .242/.295/.383. I expect him to hit around .260 with a .310-.325 OBP and slug over .400. One thing I believe with extreme confidence, is that his walk rate will be better than the 1.8% it was in the majors last year. Since baseball loves to make me look stupid when I attempt to predict it I will stop my predicting there.

The story of Ryan Rua becomes a little enigmatic at this point. I believe that Rua has the capability to comfortably hold down left this year on an eighty something win team. Long term I see Rua as a versatile and dangerous right handed bench weapon. Rua could be an above average second baseman with more pop than most middle infielders, but that won’t be a possibility in Arlington any time soon. On a decent team Rua could be a solid starting outfielder or third baseman, but on a contending team more offense should come from a corner outfield spot than Rua projects to bring. Writing that last bit feels like it could very easily come back to bite me in the near future. I’m not really sure where his career will take him. Rua’s whole career has been one long shot after another proving critics wrong at every turn. Several scouts said of him in Hickory that he was a flash in the pan and there was no way he would ever see the big leagues.

Rooting for Rua is easy. Everybody loves rooting for the underdog, it’s the American way. He has the grit to stick it out with the best in The Show and I would put money that since he’s tasted the sweet nectar of MLB success, that Rua is dying for more. I’m not one of the Baseball Gods so I have no clue what’s next for this Ohio kid. All I can say is, I’m looking forward to watching it unfold.

Brice Paterik
Brice is a Junior Journalism major at Texas Tech University in pursuit of a career in Sports Journalism. Growing up in Dallas his whole life, Brice has been a Rangers fan since before he batted against a machine. He's a sucker for a high ceiling athletic prospect without a hit tool or 20 year olds who throw 100 mph and can't hit the zone. He over values every prospect and is a hopeless romantic for baseball. She's broken his heart a million times but he will always come back for more.

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