November 22, 2004

Unheralded R-Phils earn respect of big club

Catcher Carlos Ruiz, pictured, LHP Eude Brito and RHP Robinson Tejeda emerged as legitimate prospects last season and were rewarded by inclusion to the 40-man roster. So who are they? (Reading Eagle file photo)

2004 was a banner year for developing prospects in Reading. Obviously, Ryan Howard and his record-breaking season - setting the mark for most single-season homers in the Eastern League - was the focal point for much of the attention, and deservedly so. He was spectacular. And despite getting only a handful of wins, Gavin Floyd showed what all the fuss was about by keeping runners off base and from crossing the plate.

Howard’s gigantic season and rumors about Floyd’s early call-up overshadowed a rarity in Phillies farm system, and something I enjoyed watching just as much as those two: the development of unheralded Latino prospects.

That fact was realized with the announcement of the 40-man roster, with three fine ballplayers from ’04 Reading making the list: C Carlos Ruiz, LHP Eude Brito, and RHP Robinson Tejeda.

Many of the reports are either inaccurate or paint a distorted picture of who these players are and what they may bring to the table. Here’s a local, Berks take, starting with BPF favorite son Carlos Ruiz, the 5-10 (media guide) catcher who’s more like 5-6 with spikes on.

Carlos vs. Goliath
Ruiz started 2004 behind Russ Jacobson, a 1999 third-round draft out of the University of Miami. Pat and J-Mike’s buddy was spending his third season in Reading, trying to improve upon two awful seasons in which he hit a combined 4 homers.

Despite nothing to show for himself but Miami pedigree, he was featured prominently at the beginning of the media guide.

Ruiz got a line or two in back of the media guide. The 25-year-old was signed by the Phillies out of Panama and was considered nothing more than a catch-and-throw prospect until this season.

The Phillies didn’t trust his bat enough to give him much time. He batted .213 his first year at Clearwater and that sort of set the tone for his part in Reading.

Then things changed. Jacobson played himself out of a job and the R-Phils had no choice but to test out Ruiz. Mike Drago, the R-Phils beat writer for the Eagle, reported mid-season that Ruiz re-worked his swing, started getting the bat head out in front better and started taking advantage of his natural strength to drive the ball.

His finished batting .284 with 17 HR and 50 RBI, his home run total second among Eastern League catchers. In the field, he threw out 32.9% (25-76) of would-be base stealers.

“It’s like (pitching coach) Rod (Nichols) told me,” manager Greg Legg said in Drago’s story, “sometimes, if you let a guy play, or give a guy a chance, sometimes you might find magic in a bottle. Well, we found some magic.”

I like that the magic isn’t the artificial kind, either, like the stardust sprinkled on Brett Myers the minute he was plucked from his high school in Jacksonville. As star pitchers go, you don’t get much more unheralded than a 26-year-old AA relief pitcher from the Dominican Republic.

Eude you think you are?
The Phillies press release for the 40-man roster says Eude Brito shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen, appearing in 43 games with seven starts, but more accurately, he worked his way out of the bullpen and into a starting role late in the season when a spot opened up.

As a reliever, he was 8-2 with a 3.41 ERA. He hit 95 mph on his pitches, giving the Phillies no choice but to protect him by putting him on the 40-man roster.

“Eude has very good stuff,” said Mike Arbuckle, Assistant GM of Scouting & Player Development in the press release. “He has a plus fastball and an improving slider. I think he has a chance to be a quality arm out of the bullpen at the major league level.”

Tejeda, Tejada, Potato, Potata
Half the articles on the Phillies’ 40-man roster spell Robinson Tejeda as “Tejada,” and many more call him “Rob” not “Robinson.”

Any way you spell it, the 22-year-old Dominican threw a lot of strikeouts in 2004, and like the other two, improved as the season wore on. He finished in the top five for innings (150.1) and strikeouts (133) in the Eastern League, including 76 strikeouts in his final 77.0 innings of the season and a 12-strikeout game to end the season.

He’s a big guy, 6-3, 190-pounds, and wildly inconsistent, something that doesn’t concern officials at this point in his development.

“He gave us a lot of innings this year,” Legg said in a Drago article earlier this year. “His record’s deceiving (-14 with a 5.15 ERA in 27 games. He’s had many good starts. A lot of times it’s one pitch that hurts him.”