Quakes have not one, but two new catchers Dodgers top catching prospect Keibert Ruiz promoted from Great Lakes Loons

  *  *  *  UPDATED: July 15, 2017  *  *  *

Dodger fans who simply could not go two days without baseball after the 2017 MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday were fortunate enough to have the franchise’s Advanced Single-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes to lean on. And those that did witnessed some interesting player movements over the past two days.

As a surprise to absolutely no one, Quakes catcher Will Smith, the Dodgers 2016 first-round compensatory draft pick (for Zack Greinke) out of the University of Louisville, was promoted to Double-A Tulsa on Sunday, July 9. And even though Smith was hitting only .231 in his 73 games with the Quakes, he was tied for third on the team in home runs (11), tied for second in doubles (15), tied for third in triples (3) and was third in RBIs (43). But where Smith really soared was on defense where he nailed 30 would-be base stealers for a remarkable 48 percent caught stealing rate, tops in the California League by a considerable margin.

Smith was replaced on the Quakes roster by 18-year-old (that’s not a typo) catcher Keibert Ruiz, who was moved up from the Low Single-A Great Lakes Loons, And understandably so. With the Low-A affiliate Ruiz only had a slash-line of .317 / .372 / .423 / .795 with two home runs, 16 doubles and 24 RBIs in his 63 games played. But more importantly, it was his plus defense and plus speed that earned the young Valencia, Venezuela native a ticket to the West Coast to join the Dodgers Cal League affiliate.

Ruiz has a rather unique set-up position behind the plate. He appears to set up a bit deeper than most catchers and then reaches forward a bit more. By doing so, it appears that he is in a better position to frame pitches and to be able to react quicker defensively. (Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

If the name Keibert (pronounced “Key-bear”) Ruiz is unfamiliar to you, it won’t be for long. The 6′-0″ / 200-pound backstop, who was signed by the Dodgers as an international free agent on July 20, 2014 as a 16-year-old for a whopping $140,000 signing bonus, was just ranked as the Dodgers ninth overall prospect (ahead of Smith at number 12) by TrueBlueLA’s David Hood in their 2017 midseason Top-20 prospect rankings which, coincidentally, was released this past Wednesday. And while there may be some who disagree with Hood’s lofty assessment of Ruiz, that mere fact that he is even on this list speaks volumes about the young catcher.

For Quakes fans the second name might sound vaguely familiar – that of 23-year-old Kansas City, Missouri native Garrett Hope – who began the 2017 season with Rancho Cucamonga but was sent back down to the Loons after only two games. The Dodgers signed Hope to a minor league contract as a non-drafted free agent on July 1,2015. The 6′-3″ / 245-pound Hope split time between the Pioneer Rookie League Ogden Raptors and the Loons during the 2016 season, with occasional stints with the Arizona Rookie League Dodgers. He also saw time at extended spring training in 2016.

But perhaps the most surprising news on Thursday was that Quakes other catcher – 24-year-old Garrett Kennedy – had also been promoted to Double-A Tulsa earlier in the day, hence the Garrett Hope promotion from Midland to Rancho Cucamonga. Although a decent defensive catcher, Kennedy, who was selected by the Dodgers in the 14th round of the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Miami, is not a Will Smith-caliber catcher. While the former Hurricane had a respectable slash-line of .264 / .362 / .419 / .781 in his 36 games with the Quakes, his caught-stealing rate was only 23 percent.

So what does suddenly losing both of your catchers over the course of five days and having them replaced by relatively inexperienced newcomers mean for Quakes manager Drew Saylor?

“I think it’s a great thing. First off, it means that there’s opportunities for our guys that are proven are garnered opportunities to go to a higher levels and compete,” Saylor said. “I think that any time you have guys that are moving upward instead of backwards is always a good thing in player development.”

As for Ruiz, Saylor is very well aware of what the young catcher – who turns 19 years old on July 20 – has accomplished in his brief time in professional baseball.

“I think the thing that really impresses is his poise,” said the Quakes skipper. “Being 18 in the California League – I think the league average is almost 23 years old right now – to even just think about that, a high school senior going up against a possible gray-shirt senior in college, that’s a huge jump. Just the poise, just the feel that he has a calmness about him, there’s not a lot of moments that go by that have sped up. It’s only been a short couple of days but just the poise he has shown has been incredible for me.”

Saylor added that the willingness and aggressiveness of the Dodgers to move their minor league players up throughout the entire farm system is what make the franchise one of the very best in all of baseball.

“It’s great to be able to have Keibert here and have Hopey back again,” Saylor said. “I think it has shown how aggressive we are as an organization but more importantly, again, like I said, guys are garnering opportunities, so it’s a great thing all around.”

Although Hope has yet to start a game with the Quakes since his return, Keibert is 3-for-11 (.273) with a triple and two walks in the three games in which he has appeared in thus far. And while Ruiz has yet to throw out a baserunner with his new team, he threw out 16 of the 74 who tried to steal off of him while with the Loons for a 24 percent caught stealing rate.

In addition to his excellent defensive skills, Ruiz has a very powerful yet somewhat compact swing. He is also a switch-hitter. (Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

From a personal observation point, I was very impressed with Keibert’s pitch-framing abilities which, quite frankly, appear to be better than even Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, who has been acknowledges as one of the best pitch-framers in the major leagues. Ruiz also exhibited exceptional foot speed behind the plate and his pitch selection shows that he is doing his homework on the hitters that he and his pitchers will face.

Is Keibert really better than his Quakes predecessor Will Smith, as David Hood suggests? I’m not quite ready to put him there just yet as was David Hood. However, it is impossible to argue that the young the switch-hitting Venezuelan backstop is going to be a great one.

…and that you can take to the bank.

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*  *  *  UPDATED: July 15, 2017  *  *  *

Catcher Garrett Hope was promoted to the Tulsa Drillers on Saturday, July 15, 2017 and catcher Brant Whiting assigned to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes from the Tulsa Drillers.


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5 Responses to “Quakes have not one, but two new catchers Dodgers top catching prospect Keibert Ruiz promoted from Great Lakes Loons

  1. Evan Bladh says:

    The Dodger system is really stocked. So great to see these youngsters contribute. Keibert is already getting national exposure at the milb site. (Good piece but not any less informative than your article here Ron).


  2. Bluenose Dodger says:

    Garrett Hope has been reassigned to the Ogden Raptors and Brant Whiting from Tulsa takes his place in RC.Quite the game of musical catchers.

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