Given that the White Sox traded all of their proven relievers in July and didn’t have all the replacements waiting in the wings, bullpen seemed to be the most sensible area for MLB-caliber upgrades this winter.
It’s been one that’s slow to develop. The Sox traded for Thyago Vieira — a neat use of international money they couldn’t spend on its original purpose — but he should be allowed the necessary time in Triple-A to finish his development.
When it comes to relievers more likely to be givens on the 25-man roster, though, the Sox don’t have much to show yet for their winter. They didn’t hand out any of the two-year contracts that are the hottest gifts of the holiday season, and they didn’t let the Rule 5 draft force them into carrying a pitcher they didn’t have before. They gave Rob Scahill a minor-league contract, but others such deals aren’t known, if they even exist.
The White Sox finally added another reliever to the 40-man reliever on Friday by claiming Jose Ruiz off waivers from the Padres, although when you look at his history, it seems like he shouldn’t factor into any Opening Day plans for another year or two.
Like Vieira, Ruiz made his MLB debut in 2017. Like Vieira, he pitched one whole game and one whole scoreless inning.
Unlike Vieira, Ruiz is relatively new to the pitching game. The 6-foot-1-inch 22-year-old righty spent his first 3 1⁄2 pro seasons trying to catch, but stalled in A-ball. The Padres then shifted him to pitching during the 2016 season, and he spent his first full year as a pitcher in High-A Lake Elsinore. The results were rough — a 5.98 ERA, an .880 OPS allowed, and 25 walks to 45 strikeouts over 49 2⁄3 innings, even if the California League is hitter-friendly.
So how’d he get up to the majors for a game? Gas Lamp Ball’s write-up of the waiver loss contains the explanation — it was a byproduct of a three-reliever deal with the Royals in July:
A mid-season trade with Kansas City left the Padres pitching staff temporarily short-handed, so the team recalled Ruiz and his Lake Elsinore teammate Kyle Lloyd, presumably out of convenience since they were just a short drive up the 15. Ruiz made one appearance for the Padres, pitching a scoreless inning, registering a single walk and a single strikeout.
The strikeout victim was Yoenis Cespedes, and on three pitches:
His fastball averaged 95 in that appearance, which jibes with this scouting report describing his velocity as 94 to 97, which jibes with this thumbnail profile:
Jose Ruiz a broad backed, heavy set arm w/ quality arm strength; leverage to arm w/ drag, length. Over front side, finishes across with some effort. Roll over two plane SL w/ slurve depth. Mediocre athlete. Competitive, good kid— Chris Kusiolek (@CaliKusiolek) December 22, 2017
It’s an intriguing-enough use of 40-man roster space for the time being, and the Sox have three other spots to play with before they have to start cutting. If there’s a flurry of activity, though, Ruiz may be among the more vulnerable players. Ian Clarkin is the only other pitcher without any time at Double-A, and he has pitchability on his side. Should the White Sox act as expected and acquire a couple relievers immediately worthy of the 25-man roster, Ruiz may not be done with waivers.