Aug 102010

August 10 Philadelphia Inquirer

“Eleven years ago, former Phillies scout Allan Lewis told Sal Agostinelli that a short, stocky second baseman from Panama could hit and throw a baseball.

“I think part of our job is to dream a lot when you sign a guy,” said Agostinelli, the Phillies‘ international scouting supervisor. “I liked this kid because Allan told me he could hit. He didn’t think he ran fast enough to play the middle infield, but he thought he could catch because of the way he could throw.”

Scouts dream. Players decide the reality.

Carlos Ruiz, signed at 19 years old for $8,000 in 1999, is writing a fairy tale. Or at least a Phillie tale.

Playing on a team filled with accomplished all-stars, an argument could be made that Ruiz has been the Phillies‘ most valuable player through the first four months of the season. His five home runs and 27 RBIs cannot compare with the statistics of most of his fellow position players, but Ruiz’s manager, teammates and coaches understand the hidden value of what their catcher does.

“He gets the tempo of the game moving the right way,” leftfielder Raul Ibanez said. “He stands up back there and you see him punch his fist into his mitt and he’s barking and showing his intensity. He’s the guy who is facing us. We’re all looking at him. A lot of times if a guy is dead back there, it’s human nature to imitate what you see. But when you see all that intensity back there, I think it rubs off on the rest of us in a positive way.”

The catcher, of course, is the man on the field responsible for running the game by the digits he puts down behind home plate. Every catcher being schooled for the big leagues is taught that the work behind the plate is the most important part of the job. If the catcher does not have the confidence of the pitching staff, it doesn’t matter if he hits .300 with 30 home runs.

Listen to a few of the Phillies‘ pitchers and pitching coach Rich Dubee talk about Ruiz.

Jamie Moyer: “I think if you went to other clubs around the league and said his name, I think their eyes would perk up and they’d say, ‘You know what, he’s a very good catcher.’ Is he an all-star catcher? You know what, if he’s not, he’s darn near close to it. I’m going to be biased because I’ve thrown to him for three years, but I know the value of a catcher and it’s important.”

Cole Hamels: “I think he’s very aware of what the hitter is trying to do in each count. He gives you a good target. It’s almost like he understands what you’re thinking and he’s speaking to you without saying anything. There can be disagreements, but he makes you believe in his decisions because he knows or sees something in the hitter’s approach. If a catcher can help you, it makes your job so much easier and he can do that so well.””

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