David Murphy: Phillies prospect Ruf trying to get comfortable in leftfield

Posted: August 29, 2012

READING - Talk to scouts who have watched Darin Ruf play and the response is usually a shrug. Sure, they say, he can hit a little, probably enough to warrant an opportunity against big-league pitching.

Then comes the "but" . . . 

Where will he play?

Ruf hopes to solve that conundrum by proving that he can play an adequate leftfield, the position where he has spent most of the last 3 weeks after a lifetime of playing the infield. At this point, it is more of an experiment than a blueprint. Not only does Ruf look like a first baseman (he is listed at 6-3 and 220 pounds), but he runs like one, which is why you should probably hold off on penciling him into your 2013 Opening Day lineup.

"Some nights I'm lost, some nights I'm getting good reads off the bat, things like that," said Ruf, who started his 24th game in left on Tuesday. "I think it's just a matter of time before I feel 100 percent comfortable."

The opportunity is the important thing for Ruf, whose prolific power stroke has forced the Phillies to take notice. That isn't always easy for a 26-year-old, 20th-round draft pick who is finishing his first season at Double A, particularly one who does not play a premium position. But Ruf's production has been atypical. He entered Tuesday night's game against Binghamton with 18 home runs in the month of August, doubling his season total to 36, and was hitting .317 with a .408 on-base percentage and .622 slugging percentage on the season. In the sixth inning, he belted his 37th homer, tying Ryan Howard's Reading record.

With Howard in the first year of a 5-year, $125 million contract, Ruf's natural position is not an option. The offseason will provide a good indication of how the Phillies view him. That's when the team will have to decide whether to add him to the 40-man roster or leave him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft. Ruf is scheduled to play winter ball in Venezuela, but the decision will have to be made before then.

Most improved stock

While Darin Ruf's ridiculous production has garnered the headlines, the top position prospect at Reading is Cody Asche, a 22-year-old who the organization believes has the potential to develop into an everyday third baseman at the major league level.

He entered Tuesday hitting .301, with .354 on-base and .521 slugging percentages, with 49 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances since his promotion from Class A Clearwater. Third base is a position of need for the Phillies, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Asche get an invitation to big-league spring training next year.

Biggest question

Righthander Trevor May entered the season as the top pitching prospect in the organization and at 22 years old, he still has plenty of time to fulfill his potential.

But after a hot start, May has been plagued by command problems. In 27 starts, he has walked an average of 4.6 batters per nine innings while surrendering 1.4 home runs. That has been good for a 4.76 ERA.

On Monday night, May turned in one of his best outings of the season, holding Binghamton to two hits without walking a batter in eight innings. He allowed his only run on a home run and hit a batter with a pitch, but struck out nine. In his last two starts, May has allowed two earned runs with 18 strikeouts, six hits and three walks in 15 innings.

Other developments

Adam Morgan is a favorite of many scouts who have seen the Phillies' system. The 22-year-old lefty has started four games since his promotion from Class A Clearwater, where he posted a 3.29 ERA, 10.2 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and 0.5 HR/9 in 123 innings. His numbers at Double A: 3.00 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9 in 24 innings. He has improved his stock as much as any pitcher in the system and could get an invitation to spring training . . . Tyson Gillies has shown why he still is on the organization's radar, hitting .300/.367/.437 while covering plenty of ground in centerfield. He still needs to prove he can stay on the field, having appeared in just 61 games . . . Outfielder Jiwan James got off to a hot start but entered Tuesday hitting just .249/.292/.362 . . . Righthander Brody Colvin has a 9.51 ERA in six starts since his promotion from Clearwater . . . Catcher Tommy Joseph entered Tuesday hitting .213/.304/.313 with 25 strikeouts in 80 at-bats since joining the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade.

In conclusion

We could get a closer look at Adam Morgan and Cody Asche in spring training, although neither seems like a strong bet to help the big-league club next season. Tommy Joseph and Brody Colvin have decent potential, but both have plenty of developing to do.

Contact Dave Murphy at dmurphy@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. For Phillies coverage and opinion, read his blog at philly.com/HighCheese.

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