Cuban right-hander Norge Ruiz has left the island and will seek a contract with a Major League club, reports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (via Twitter). The 21-year-old Ruiz is one of the top prospects in Cuba, so interest in him would figure to be substantial.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler ranked Ruiz as the No. 8 prospect in Cuba (subscription-only scouting report is highly recommended) less than one month ago, with all seven of the players ranked ahead of him being position players. Ruiz’s age will make him subject to international bonus pools, but as Badler notes in a second piece, he’ll be eligible to sign in the 2015-16 signing period once he establishes residency and applies for free agency with MLB.
That he’s apparently ticketed to sign in the upcoming signing period as opposed to the current period will remove several clubs from the mix. The Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, D-Backs and Angels have all exceeded their 2014-15 bonus pools by more than 15 percent, meaning none of those teams will be able to sign an international amateur for more than $300K. Given Ruiz’s prospect status, that limitation will assuredly preclude any of the aforementioned clubs from signing him.
In the scouting report referenced above, Badler notes that Ruiz was the 2012-13 Serie Nacional Rookie of the Year in Cuba and writes that he “stands out in a country thin on Major League pitching prospects.” Per Badler, he features a fastball that sits in the low 90s and touches 94 mph, which is complemented by a slider, changeup and splitter. At his best, Ruiz misses bats effectively and keeps the ball on the ground, as evidenced by a 62 percent ground-ball rate in 2014-15, according to Badler. He adds that Ruiz is a very good athlete and has feel for pitching beyond his years, giving him the potential to be a mid-rotation starter in the Majors.
While it’s early to know which teams will pursue Ruiz, it’s believed that the Dodgers are planning to go well over their pool and may already have a significant deal in place with Yadier Alvarez. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them add Ruiz as well. The Blue Jays (Vlad Guerrero Jr.), Twins (Wander Javier) and Phillies (Jhailyn Ortiz) may all have deals that would put them at or over their international budgets in place, according to Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel, though each of those clubs would have the ability to acquire enough international bonus money in trades to avoid incurring maximum penalties. (Teams can only acquire up to 50 percent of their originally allotted bonus pool via trade.) Additionally, the Cubs and Rangers will be able to spend aggressively again in the upcoming period and showed a strong willingness to do so in the 2013-14 period.