Rio Ruiz is a name we have heard for a while and been longing to see in person. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound third baseman strolled into USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars this week, fresh off hitting a home run at Dodger Stadium in California's Southern Section Division IV championship game. Ruiz led Bishop Amat High (La Puente, Calif.) to the title win and a No. 7 finish in the High School Top 25.
For the Lancers, Ruiz hit .455 in 101 at-bats with three home runs and 35 RBIs. He described hitting a home run at Dodger Stadium as one of the best feelings in his life and was excited to finally win a championship.
"It was amazing," he said. "That's been my goal since freshman year, to win a championship. Third year is a charm. We worked really hard, every day. Whether it's ground balls, hitting, throwing. We did the little things perfectly. Everything. Hats off to my coach. Coach (Andy) Nieto, he did a heck of a job."
Ruiz had a solid week in Cary, N.C., going 5-for-14 at TOS with a triple and double, before going 3-for-9 in three 18U Trials games. He was named to the 40-man trials roster in hopes of making the 18U National Team, which will head to Cartagena, Colombia in September to compete in the COPABE Pan Am 18U Championships.
"During the tournament I got off to a slow start," Ruiz said. "I had to battle through everything. I put together some good at-bats and put the ball hard on the ground or line drives in the gaps. The trials, I've had some bad at-bats here and there, but you have to shake things off and go right to the next one, square the ball up as much as you can."
Up next is the Prospect Classic, where Ruiz and his teammates will play two games against USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team. No matter the result, Ruiz has shown flashes of his talent in the last week. He has good bat speed and sprayed hard line drives in the gaps during batting practice. He has great strength in his hands and forearms, which translates in the box. A side note, if you had to put a grade on his handshake, it would be an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Ruiz also sees time on the mound occasionally and finally got his turn in the last inning of Thursday's scrimmage. He sat 91-92 mph, touching 93 and mixed in a 79-82 slider and 85 changuep. With a 20-man roster limit, Team USA looks for players that fill multiple roles and Ruiz's performance on Thursday certainly adds value.
"I was a little nervous because I haven't gotten on the mound in a live game in a while," he said. "But I stayed calm, stayed poised. I did what I wanted and had to do to stay around the strike zone and be consistent."
He only saw 11 innings of action this spring for Bishop Amat, but struck out 18 while walking only two and allowing three hits and no runs.
"I really like to get ahead with my fastball like any other pitcher," Ruiz said. "I'm not going to back down from any hitters. If it's one of the biggest hitters in the country, I'll go right at them. It doesn't faze me. My mindset is to just go in there and throw strikes."
Right now, Ruiz is focused on enjoying his time as a high school athlete. Also a star quarterback, Ruiz knows a time will come when he has to choose one sport and one position. But that doesn't bother him right now. He just wants to enjoy his teenage years while he puts in the work to become a better athlete.
"(Football) keeps me in shape and strong," Ruiz said. "It keeps me athletic. My coach emphasizes flexibility and joint strength. Being flexible leads to more athleticism."
Ruiz threw for 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns last fall, helping the Lancers to a 9-2 finish. He is committed to Southern California where he says he'll play both baseball and football, no matter what it takes.
"If they want me to be quarterback, I'll be a quarterback," Ruiz said. "If they want me to be a receiver or safety, or even a punter or kicker, I don't care. As long as I get on that field. Anything and everything."
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