April 21, 2011 at 8:00 AM
One of the first stops on many prospects’ paths in the Red Sox system is Lowell, a place that affords fans the opportunity to see the system’s young talent before they head south to Greenville and Salem for seasoning. But as we’ve come to find out, not every prospect’s path is the same. After spending his first two seasons in the Gulf Coast League, Salem pitcher Pete Ruiz skipped Lowell and overcame midseason struggles in 2010 to have a breakout season for the Drive. In his last eight starts of the season, Ruiz posted a 1.76 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 48:4, good enough to earn a pair SoxProspects.com Pitcher of the Week awards and Pitcher of the Month honors in August. The big righty recently took some time to talk to me about his conversion to pitching, his development on the mound, and his spring training roommate, Ryan Westmoreland.
Jon Meoli: You converted from a position player to a pitcher. Can you talk about what sparked that?
Pete Ruiz: I went to Santa Barbara Community College as a corner infielder. I redshirted because I hit the ball well but I just didn’t have power, and I knew I just wasn’t going to play. I asked to throw a bullpen a couple times and they said no. I finally threw a bullpen and after five pitches they said, “Alright, you’re going to pitch.” I had thrown in one game in high school, but never really pitched in my career. I knew I had a strong arm and a good breaking ball, given the chance. I guess I was about 19 when I started pitching.
JM: What was that transition like?
PR: It was really frustrating. I’m a very competitive person, and pitching is tough. It’s very mental. There’s a lot more downtime compared to being a position player, and I was in the bullpen in college. That was tough, some days throwing, some days not throwing. I started to get the hang of it at the end and I started enjoying it.
JM: What was the draft and signing process like for you?
PR: I committed to the University of Oregon in the fall of my sophomore year in 2008. My thing was that if I went in the top ten rounds then I would sign. Draft day was kind of stressful. I thought the Mariners were going to take me, for sure. They called me [in rounds] 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 but didn’t take me, and then the Sox took me in the tenth. I was really happy with the organization that took me and I saw it as a good opportunity, so I passed up Oregon.
JM: Now you’ve been pitching with the Red Sox for a few seasons. Did you feel at any point that you stopped standing on the mound and throwing and started pitching? Do you think you’ve reached that point at all?
PR: I’m close. I still feel like I’m a little behind in certain situations compared to the other guys that have been doing it their whole career, just in pitch counts, throwing different pitches in different counts. But for the most part I’ve learned that a quality pitch is a quality pitch. It’s not really what you throw, it’s where you throw it. I’ve really worked on minimizing walks, forcing contact, and things like that, especially as a starter. I feel like I’m definitely starting to make the transition into being a pitcher.
JM: In terms of your arsenal, what are you throwing these days?
PR: I’m a four-seam and two-seam fastball guy. I get pretty good movement on my two-seam, so I use that for ground balls and if I fall behind in the count. I throw my two-seam to my arm-side and my four-seamer to the opposite arm side. My two-seam is anywhere from 89-91 and 92 on a good day and my four-seam is about 92-94. It just depends on the count and the situation. I’m very confident in my breaking ball. It’s definitely my out pitch, my go-to pitch when I’m ahead in the count. I’m still developing a changeup. Especially as a starter, that’s what I need to work on the most, trusting it in any count and throwing it. I definitely have a feel for a good changeup now. It’s all about going out there and trusting it in a game.
JM: You threw the most innings you’ve thrown in your career last season. Were there any ill-effects that altered your preparation for this season?
PR: I stayed with the same approach as I did the offseason before—same throwing program, same shoulder program. We have a great lifting program, and I stuck with that. It was definitely a lot of innings. The most I threw in college was 66, and I threw 125 [last year]. It was definitely a much bigger load, but I’m getting older and I think I’m definitely at a point now where I can handle those kinds of innings.
JM: You had a lot of success last year towards the end of the season. Did you notice anything different that you were doing to bring that about?
PR: It was kind of an interesting year. I started in the bullpen, did pretty well, got promoted to piggyback starter, and had success there too. Then I finally worked my way into a starting role. When Roman Mendez went down, I got the nod. My first start was pretty good and then I had a really tough time for a month and a half. I think I just lost confidence in my stuff and thought being a starter was “Oh, you have to nitpick corners and be this crafty guy.” That’s not the case. The second half, I was just really aggressive with my pitches. I threw my breaking ball whenever I wanted to. That was really my out pitch in the bullpen. I started throwing my pitches with conviction.
JM: How did you feel this spring?
PR: Very good. I felt very good this spring. My velocity was good. Stuff-wise I felt really confident. There was a lot less pressure this year. I had a good season last year, and I came into the year thinking, “Ok, I put myself on the map. Don’t put as much pressure on yourself. Just let yourself work out there.”
JM: And you had put a lot of pressure on yourself in the past?
PR: My coach in junior college was a 40-man roster guy with the Indians for a couple years. He had some Triple-A time, a little big league time. He did his best, but he told me every day that there’s nothing that can prepare you for professional baseball. You see that every day. You come from wherever you are and you’re the guy. You throw 90, but everyone here throws 90. Everyone has a good breaking pitch. It’s very competitive and you know that you’re fighting for spots. You definitely feel a bit of pressure, but now that I’ve been in the system for a couple of years I know where I stand. I know what I need to do. It’s easier to individualize my priorities instead of focus on the big picture.
JM: You’ve been in the system for a couple of years now. Has anyone in particular impressed you with their talent?
PR: I really respect Kyle Weiland and how fast he’s catapulted himself to where he is. He does his work every day. Stephen Fife is another guy that I lived with in the spring and kind of look up to. He’s a little older than me, he’s been about a level ahead of me each year but he’s a guy I can talk to about certain things. Even the new class coming in—Anthony Ranaudo is a very good pitcher, Brandon Workman. There are a lot of guys in this organization that are impressive pitchers.
JM: Lastly, I’ve heard that you’re close with Ryan Westmoreland. You got to see him over the spring, correct?
PR: We lived together over the spring. It’s unbelievably great to see him out on the field, taking batting practice, lifting and conditioning. I went through a lot with him the year before with the surgery and I went and saw him in Arizona before it happened. To see where he was, having gone through the surgery to where he’s at now, it’s such a rewarding feeling to see him back on the field where he belongs. He’s come such a long way. He’s worked so hard. I pull for him every single day.
JM: It seems kind of unfair that people are judging his recovery through the lens of baseball. What’s it like for you as a friend to hear people concerned with that?
PR: When that first happened, it wasn’t an issue of baseball. I talked to his dad a lot and his family, and it was definitely more about quality of life. You don’t know if he’s going to live through the surgery, you don’t know if he’s going to walk or talk. All of those factors. Baseball is a huge part of Ryan’s life and he’s got a bulls-eye on him because he was a number one prospect, big money signing. His talent was so recognized that it’s very easy for people to say that if he doesn’t play baseball again, it’s a failure. But from where he was to where he is now, he’s already won. The kind of person he is, I know he’s going to keep working and baseball is going to be his number one goal. If that, for some reason, doesn’t happen for him, then what he’s already accomplished is good enough. It’s pretty amazing.