If I told you that player A hit seven home runs in one full season of ball, then turned around and hit 32 the next, you'd probably think I was talking about Jose Bautista, other than the fact that this is an article entitled 'Ryan Rua.'
Ryan Rua was on no one's radar as of this time last year. A 17th-round pick out of Division-II Lake Erie College, and a second baseman with average numbers in a middle-infield heavy system, Rua looked primed for an organizational existence, picking up infield positions as he moved up the levels. Instead, he hit 29 home runs in 104 games with low-A Hickory, walked 11.4% of the time (second highest percentage among Crawdads with 100+ PA) and ended the year two levels above where he started.
Though he didn't hit particularly well in his short stay in double-A, and his Arizona Fall League appearances left a bit to be desired, 2013 was his first year in full season ball. Exhaustion could have been a factor in his offensive decline, as well as the increase in talented pitching he saw with Frisco. Sample size is also an issue, and it's impossible to draw any useful conclusions from the statistics from 23 AA games and 17 AFL games. Rua did hit three homers with Frisco and four with the Surprise Saguaros, showing that the pop didn't immediately disappear against higher-level pitching.
In 2014, Rua will be a 24-year-old third baseman in AA Frisco, where he will attempt to prove that last year's power surge was an indication of lasting development. If he can both cut down on the strikeouts that seemed endemic to the 2013 Hickory Crawdads, and find a level of defensive prowess not previously shown in attempts at third base, then his prospect status could continue to climb. Of course, third base is one of the most difficult positions to pick up quickly, and as with all things, improvement only comes with practice. Rua will get that practice this year, as he'll most likely spend the majority of his time as the RoughRiders' starting third baseman.
Rua shows aptitude for hitting left handed pitching, crushing southpaws at a .300/.402/.710 clip while managing a still-solid .232/.331/.473 against RHP. If this difference holds up, an ability to drive the ball against left-handed pitching could create bench openings for Rua, even if the defense doesn't show massive improvements.
If Rua lives up to Nathaniel Stoltz's entirely possible triple-slash projection (found here), he could easily look like Minnesota Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe never had the offensive explosion Rua showed last season, but hit 24 home runs in his first full season of major league ball, an upswing in power possibly caused by more hitter-friendly conditions than his home minor league parks. While Rua could put up Plouffe-like numbers in a starting role for a team with an infield need, he could also provide value coming off the bench in a platoon situation, providing decent backup at multiple positions.
As it stands, Rua probably has at least two years before it could reasonably be expected for him to compete for a major league position. Though Adrian Beltre's contract expires in 2015, with a 2016 option, Rua would have to prove himself better than any free agents, and younger basher Joey Gallo is possibly only a year or so behind. Rua's positional flexibility gives him a higher floor than some, and the potential emergent power makes him an enticing look, but a lot of things will have to go perfectly for him to see a starting role with the Texas Rangers. However, he could be a very valuable piece in future trade negotiations, and his talents would not be overlooked in other systems.
Kate Morrison is a recent Baylor graduate currently working as a freeelance writer. She likes minor league ballparks, music and the nickname 'Roogie.' That last one will be explained in due time. You can follow her on Twitter at @unlikelyfanatic.
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