Ruggiano playing his way into Marlins' 2013 plans
Outfielder making most of big league opportunity after traveling winding road
MIAMI -- After Emilio Bonifacio went on the disabled list with a sprained thumb in late May, the Marlins went looking for outfield depth. They found a motivated 30-year-old who was seeking a break.
The hookup has turned into a perfect fit. In an otherwise rough year for Miami, Justin Ruggiano has offered production and promise.
Able to play all three outfield spots, Ruggiano has become a regular in either center field or left. In 84 games, he's hit for average (.318), and power (13 homers), and shown some flash on defense, making several standout plays.
Ruggiano has also made himself part of the Marlins' plans for 2013, either as a starter or an extra outfielder.
"Now he's got confidence," Miami manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Now he knows he can play in the big leagues. Now he knows he can help people at the big league level. That helps. You create confidence and make it a little easier to play the game."
Drafted by the Dodgers out of Texas A&M in the 25th round in 2004, Ruggiano has seen enough in his professional career not to take anything for granted.
In 2006, he was dealt to Tampa Bay, and he made his Major League debut a year later. The Rays, however, were loaded with outfield depth, so Ruggiano saw limited playing time (98 total games) in big league stints in parts of 2007, '08 and '11.
"I don't think anything in this game is for sure," the outfielder said. "I'm hoping I can come back here. I'd actually love to stay with the team for the rest of my career, if that's a possibility. I don't make those decisions."
Ruggiano's numbers right now are doing his talking. He's under club control for next year, and the team has every intention of keeping him on its 40-man roster heading into Spring Training.
It's a different situation from this year, when he was caught in a numbers game in the Rays' system. Tampa Bay designated Ruggiano for assignment on Jan. 27, and he declined the assignment three days later, becoming a free agent.
The Marlins had interest then, but the Texas native wanted to be closer to home. So he signed a Minor League contract with the Astros that included an invitation to Spring Training. Ruggiano didn't make Houston's Opening Day roster, and he started off at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
The Marlins still kept tabs on him, and on May 26, they pulled off a low-profile trade that has given them a big return. Miami acquired Ruggiano that day from the Astros for Class A catcher Jobduan Morales. A day later, the Marlins purchased his contract and brought him up to the big leagues.
Miami was seeking outfield help because Bonifacio went on the disabled list on May 20 with a sprained left thumb. The speedster didn't return until July 13, the first game after the All-Star break. By then, Ruggiano had established himself, earning plenty of playing time.
"All I know is this year has given me new hope, new life," Ruggiano said. "It's kind of re-invigorated me for the offseason and how I go about my offseason training, and certain areas I need to work on."
In spacious Marlins Park, Ruggiano has shown he can play a solid center field, as well as left field. Although he can play right field, Giancarlo Stanton has that position anchored.
After the season, Ruggiano hopes the Marlins give him an indication of their plans for next year. Do they want him more in center or left?
"If playing center field is what they want me to do, then maybe I should slim down a little bit," Ruggiano said.
Wherever he is playing, the Marlins don't want to limit his power. Ruggiano's 13 homers are second to Stanton's 34 on the Miami roster.
Throughout his years in the Minor Leagues, Ruggiano looked for an opportunity to have regular playing time. He spoke about that a few years ago with his father, wondering what he could do with steady action.
"Conversations between me and my dad were like, 'I'd love to see what I could do on a regular basis,' " he said. "Just getting an opportunity. It hadn't happened until now."