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01/29/11 6:11 PM EST

Rangers sign Ruiz to Minor League contract

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have signed free-agent first baseman Jose Ruiz, a left-handed hitter who signed with the Rays last year and then was released in November. He has agreed to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

Ruiz, 26, defected from Cuba in the summer of 2009 after playing for Cuba in the National Series, the highest level of baseball in that country. The Rangers were one of several teams that pursued him when he became available last year.

The Rays signed him to a unique contract in June. They agreed to a Minor League deal with the stipulation that they had a November deadline if they wanted to pick up a four-year, $4 million option. The Rays eventually decided against it, making Ruiz a free agent.

"We did a lot of work on him last year," Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "We were probably runners-up when he signed. He's a guy who will probably start at Double-A or Triple-A, so we can get around him and see what he can do. That's not necessarily based on ability, but just getting regular at-bats."

The Rangers have Michael Young, Mitch Moreland and Mike Napoli to play first at the Major League level. Chris Davis is also in the mix, but could end up at Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Ruiz could also give the Rangers some depth to move Davis in a trade if they like what they see in Spring Training.

Ruiz is 6-foot-3 and weighs 230 pounds, but also moves around well enough to be considered as a possible outfielder if needed. He is an experienced hitter with an advanced feel for hitting, but has not yet displayed power in limited time in the Rays system.

He played in 23 games at Double-A Montgomery last summer and hit .272 in 106 plate appearances. He was 25-for-92 with two doubles, one triple, one home run and 11 RBIs with a .358 on-base percentage and a .348 slugging percentage.

Before leaving Cuba, Ruiz was batting .305 with a .408 on-base percentage and a .467 slugging percentage through 52 games for his National Series club. In his previous full season, he batted .341 with 69 RBIs. In his five-year National Series career, Ruiz had a .330 lifetime batting average.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.