Will Dodgers top prospect Keibert Ruiz have a chance to contribute to the team over the next several years?
There’s nothing wrong with having exceptional prospect depth, but after 2020, we must ask: Have the Dodgers gone as far as they can go in pretending Keibert Ruiz is a part of the future?
The young catcher has ranked at or near the top of the team’s Top 30 Prospects list ever since he emerged during the 2018 season and narrowly missed being a part of the Manny Machado trade with the Baltimore Orioles. Always at the forefront of talks, never in the final package, am I right?
Even during the endless Mookie Betts conversations early in 2020, it seemed likely that Ruiz would eventually find his way into the deal as the pressure built for the Dodgers to surrender more than Alex Verdugo alone. Instead, Los Angeles relented and messed with their infield depth instead of their up-the-middle young core, swapping Jeter Downs into the trade, while keeping both Ruiz and No. 1 prospect Josiah Gray.
But perhaps the Dodgers erred in holding onto Ruiz through year after year of theoretical (and oft-completed) deals? Because post-World Series, the narrative has flipped.
60 games do not define a generation of roster maneuvers, but after all we’ve seen over the past few months, Will Smith seems fairly entrenched as the Dodgers catcher for now and always.
Still just 25, Smith got the spotlight this postseason and grabbed onto it firmly. Though he’ll always be remembered for his NLCS-flipping home run against his namesake, the 2016 first-rounder hit .289 with eight homers in the regular season before riding that momentum into October and hitting .455 in the NLDS, followed by a seven-RBI NLCS and (OK, fine) a difficult World Series. But once you arrive, establish your talents, then perform well over a full season and serve as the starting catcher on a championship run, it’s your job, right? Do we really envision a world where Smith is replaced or supplanted next year?
There’s a difference between having a proliferation of depth and having two stars at the same position at the same level of development. A rotation won’t help either man; having a backup catcher with the talent level of either Smith or Ruiz is close to pointless. It’s like keeping James Harden as your sixth man, just because you feel like it.
The 22-year-old Ruiz is ultra-talented, with power and poise. But Smith has almost the same pedigree, and he got here first.
Ruiz’s eight big-league at-bats in 2020 were highlighted by a homer in his very first appearance, giving the Dodgers a hint at what they’d deemphasized over the past year or so. But it’s hard to see the team pivoting to handing Ruiz the keys at any point in the near future, making him far more valuable as a trade commodity.
With Francisco Lindor and (maybe?) Nolan Arenado still on the market this offseason, Los Angeles should not so subtly hint that they’re still open for business with regards to the catcher they’ve managed to block.