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Yankees 2015 Roster Report Card: Eric Ruth

The 24-year-old righty reached Triple-A by wowing evaluators in his first season as a starter.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: A/A-

2015 Statistics: 3.38 ERA, 25 GS, 146.1 IP, 134 H, 96 SO, 46 BB, 1.230 WHIP

2016 Roster Status: High-A/Double-A/Triple-A/Non-40

There were 1,216 players selected in the 2013 amateur draft. Eric Ruth was not one of them. The six-foot-nothing righty signed with the Yankees as an undrafted free agent out of Winthrop University two years ago. What a coup. For a minimal investment, the Yankees are reaping maximum rewards.

Nothing about Ruth screams ‘prospect.' In fact, he wasn't even a starter his senior year of college. Working as a reliever, the soft-tossing righty owned the Big South Conference, posting an otherworldly 0.43 ERA. He threw 41.2 innings, striking out 55 while allowing just 25 hits, 13 walks and one home run. By any measure, it was a fantastic season—one of the best in the nation. Ultimately though, concerns about Ruth's substandard size and velocity overshadowed his on-field performance.

But all's well that ends well. Shortly after he wasn't drafted, Ruth signed a pro contract with the Yankees, turning down several other suitors. First he reported to Rookie Ball in the Gulf Coast League. There, he looked more like Babe Ruth (from his Boston days, of course) as he pitched to an ERA of 0.75 with 40 strikeouts in 24 innings. Before the season was over, he'd earned a promotion to High-A Tampa.

Ruth split 2014 between four levels of competition, scaling every rung on the organizational ladder as he ascended to Triple-A. He was crisp in Charleston and terrific in Tampa, yet his time in Trenton was turbulent. Working out of the ‘pen, Ruth struggled. His ERA swelled to 5.54 (3.89 FIP) while his strikeouts dipped below one per inning. Stuff happens. Double-A tends to get the better of young players and Ruth had zoomed through the system. No wonder he stumbled. Still, the Yankees bumped him to Scranton at season's end.

The Yankees decided to stretch Ruth out in 2015. Despite his previous success, he found himself back in Tampa. After an up-and-down season, he needed to re-prove himself to the team. That's the extra effort implicit in being a non-prospect. You need to succeed twice over. There is no benefit of the doubt. Plus, the team needed to see how he fared going through lineups multiple times. Ruth rose to the challenge. He posted four solid starts in Single-A and was swiftly promoted to Trenton. There, Ruth rocked. Twirling 112.1 innings spread over 24 starts, Ruth limited hits (104), walks (39), and home runs (7). His ERA was a more-than-solid 3.20. Though he only struck out 77 batters, Ruth found a way to be effective without missing many bats. Suddenly, the unknown reliever was excelling at the top of a Double-A rotation. He pitched his way into the conversation. Due to the usual promotion frenzy that comes at roster expansion time, Ruth again finished the season at Triple-A. He made two starts, hurling a thoroughly mediocre 12 innings. It wasn't his best showing. Still, the 24-year-old Ruth had arrived. Against the odds here he was, starting International League games.

Eric Ruth is an interesting case. Though he has impeccable control and a strong slider, he doesn't exactly profile as a major league hurler. He's small, thin and tops out around 90 MPH. When's the last time you saw a young righty throw 90? That's what makes Ruth special. Any coach will tell you that command and versatility are far more vital to a pitcher's success than raw velocity is. In baseball's upper levels, it really doesn't matter how hard you can throw because batters could time a jet aircraft. Pitching is like real estate. Location, location, location.

Speaking of location, Ruth will likely open next season with the Thunder. If he pitches well, he could find himself in Triple-A before the season is halfway through. A native of Harleysville, PA (about 30 miles from Trenton), Ruth enjoys a luxury few of his colleagues get to—his own bed and home cooked dinners. I don't know if that's what makes him so successful, but surely it doesn't hurt.

Eric Ruth has made a career out of being overlooked. Now, he's no longer an underdog. Look for him in spring training—there's a good chance he reports with the big club—and keep him in mind when the Yankees are inevitably running their 89th reliever of the year out there in mid-June. He just might be coming home soon.

After all, isn't it the House that Ruth Built?