Phillies' Darin Ruf's Home Run Binge Continues
No one will ever confuse FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pa., for a big league ballpark. But four times a night, those in the Double-A park get to experience a big league buzz.
When Reading first baseman Darin Ruf steps to the plate, everything else stops.
"Every at-bat, you can go to any concession stand in the park and there is no one there," Reading general manager Scott Hunsicker said. "As soon as he's done with his at-bat, everyone goes about their business."
Reading manager Dusty Wathan added, "In the minors you don't get that buzz when a guy walks to the plate often. The past month, there is a buzz when he walks to the plate. People are disappointed when he doesn't hit a home run."
Fans haven't been disappointed often, as Ruf has put together one of the greatest months anyone has ever seen. He hit his 19th home run of the month last night, a tape-measure drive that almost cleared the deck in left field.
It was his 37th of the year, tops in the minors.
It is impossible to tabulate who is the all-time minor league home run leader in a single month—there are simply too many leagues and too many teams where such month-by-month breakdowns were never assembled. At the big league level, Sammy Sosa's 20 home runs in June 1998 is the record.
Ruf started August by going 0-for-8 in his first two games. Since then, he's hit .383 with 38 hits (23 for extra bases) in the past 26 games. At one point this month he had a five-game home run streak, and he has homered in five of the past six games.
"I've never seen a guy locked in like he is this month," Wathan said.
Ruf has more home runs this month than any Phillies' big leaguer has this year. His 19 home runs this month would put him fourth in the Eastern League for home runs this season.
The R-Phils clubhouse and the fans have responded. While Ruf doesn't Tweet, his teammates do, and they are using a #BabeRuf hashtag after every game when he launches another home run. Players went to team management and suggested "Babe Ruf" t-shirts for them to wear, and those are now also available at the stadium store. Some teammates also have "Ruffy The Ball Slayer" t-shirts, and he has also been called "Ruf The Magic Dragon."
"It's amazing. It couldn't happen to a better guy," said Wathan, who also managed Ruf the previous two seasons at high Class A Clearwater. "I was talking about how guys handle success—well, he can handle it."
Ruf looks like a safe bet to win the minor league home run race this year. He has already tied the Reading record of 37 home runs, set in 2004 by Ryan Howard. Rick Lancelotti's Eastern League record of 41, set in 1971, might be out of reach with just six games remaining. But no one expected Ruf to hit 19 home runs in his past 26 games, either.
Ruf's power binge has finally brought attention to the 26-year-old first baseman, who has spent much of his career out of the spotlight. Ruf was a 20th-round pick of the Phillies in 2009 after a four-year career at Creighton. He has hit almost everywhere the Phillies have sent him, with a career .305 average, but didn't show much power. His career high in home runs coming into the season was 17.
For a righthanded first baseman who doesn't run well or show athleticism, home runs are really the only way to get to the big leagues. This year, Ruf has taken care of that problem, and he has also played left field in addition to first.
Wathan said he saw last year that Ruf could start putting the ball over the fence more regularly.
"Last year after about the first month or two he worked on getting the ball in the air," Wathan said. "He's had 40-plus doubles before. It's a matter of getting the ball into the air. I expected he'd have a big year this year; I expected he could hit 30 home runs this year."
With Howard still owed $95 million from 2013-2016, left field could provide Ruf another path to big league playing time. "I think we can get him to average defender in left field. He won't ever have average foot speed, but if you hit enough, you'll take a little less range in the outfield," Wathan said.
The big league club has noticed Ruf's efforts. Manager Charlie Manuel said yesterday that he hopes Ruf will get a shot in Philadelphia soon, maybe when rosters expand on Sept. 1.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. witnessed one of Ruf's August home runs on a swing through the minors this month and said Ruf will be under consideration for a callup.
"He's on the radar screen," Amaro told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It really depends on whether he can get playing time. It is something we'll continue to talk about."
Scouts for other teams are more skeptical, as reports (predating this month's power binge) pegging him as a likely 4-A player.