After breaking past their international bonus pool when the 2016-17 signing period opened on July 2, the Athletics have added their top international free agent of the season, signing 22-year-old Cuban righthander Norge Ruiz. His bonus is $2 million, and since the A’s will have to pay a 100 percent overage tax for exceeding their bonus pool, the total cost for the team will be $4 million.
Ruiz is a polished pitcher for his age, so he could head to Double-A, though that assignment hasn’t been determined yet. At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, Ruiz has solid stuff across the board that plays up because of his advanced feel for pitching, keeping hitters off balance with a wide repertoire of average to above-average pitches.
Ruiz doesn’t overpower hitters, sitting at 89-92 mph and touching 94 with a lively fastball that helps him get groundballs. He has a plus changeup and his slider can flash above-average as well but tends to flatten out on him, with a splitter mixed in as well. Over his last season in Cuba, Ruiz started to pitch more off his fastball, but he will throw any pitch in any count. Ruiz isn’t that big and he finishes with recoil in his delivery, which gives some scouts concerns about his durability, but he has a chance to develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter if everything clicks.
When he was in Cuba, Ruiz separated himself as one of the top pitchers in the country from an early age, winning Serie Nacional rookie of the year honors in the 2012-13 season. That summer, Ruiz pitched in front of major league scouts in Omaha against a stacked U.S. college national team lineup that included Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Alex Bregman, Michael Conforto and Bradley Zimmer. Ruiz flourished, striking out 11 batters in 7 1/3 innings with one run, two walks and three hits allowed.
Ruiz went on to become one of the best pitchers in Cuba’s Serie Nacional and a top starter on a pitching-depleted Cuban national team. In Baseball America’s April 2015 rankings of the Top 20 players in Cuba, Ruiz ranked No. 8 overall and was the top-ranked pitcher in the country. During his final season (2014-15) in Cuba, Ruiz had a 3.26 ERA in 110 1/3 innings with 86 strikeouts, 43 walks and a 62 percent groundball rate. Most recently, Ruiz had made three starts for Aguilas in the Dominican League in October and November.