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Eric Ruth: bucking the trends in today's velocity-crazed game

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Yankees pitching prospect Eric Ruth can rear back and throw his fastball at 92 MPH when he wants to. Most top flight pitching prospects throw 92 in their sleep. Yet Ruth has embarked on a remarkable string of starts in which he's been lights-out. I spoke with the right-hander about his approach and asked him how he's become so successful.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Ruth is 24 years old, which is considered a bad sign for a player still in Double-A. At 24, most "notable" prospects have ascended to Triple-A and are knocking on the door of the Major Leagues, if they haven't already cracked a big league roster. Ruth is listed as 6'0" tall, but that is most likely not accurate. I'm 5'11" on a good day, and Ruth was slightly shorter than me when I was talking to him in the Trenton clubhouse. The righty also went undrafted out of Winthrop University and was signed as a free agent by the Yankees. So, to recap, Ruth has the following on his ledger:

  • Soft-tosser without being a left-hander (eliminating a platoon advantage over the big lefty sluggers of the world, and he'll possibly pitch half his games at Yankee Stadium)
  • Shorter than the average starter (so he releases the ball further from home plate, giving the batter a longer look at the ball)
  • Doesn't throw hard
  • Nonexistent draft pedigree
So why are we talking about Eric Ruth, then? Here's Ruth's line from May 9th onward: 5 games stared, 32 IP, 7 ER, 18 K, 9 BB, 1.03 WHIP. Ruth is on fire. Despite his lack of heat, Ruth earns massive whiffs on all of his pitches. His method for pitching this well is very simple. First, his control is nearly impeccable. He very rarely misses, and he almost never misses badly. He's yet to issue a wild pitch this season. Ruth was named the Eastern League Player of the Week after I did my interview with him and it was incredibly well-deserved. In his two starts he threw 13 innings, giving up only three earned runs on 13 hits and two walks. He struck out seven and got the win in both games.

Ruth attributes his success to his approach on the rubber. "I'm just trying to stay aggressive, attack the strike zone and keep the ball down and that's what I've been doing. Trying to get ahead of each hitter and if you can do that, I think you can be successful no matter what level you're at," he told me.

"Aggressive" is the key word there. As I've mentioned in my scouting reports, Ruth wastes very little time between his pitches. The 20-second pitch clock at Arm & Hammer Park rarely reaches 10 before Ruth's begun his motion to the plate. And once he's done that, odds are he's fired a strike. Ruth says he has four pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup) and he can throw them all in the zone at his leisure. Trenton manager Al Pedrique told me he's noticed Ruth being more aggressive with the fastball in pitcher's counts, but he's also starting to see Ruth throw breaking balls in fastball counts.

"That's how you keep the hitters honest," said Pedrique. "You keep them off balance when you have the ability to throw a curveball or a changeup on fastball counts." The evidence of this is clearly visible in Ruth's starts. I can count the number of prospects I've seen look comfortable facing him on one hand. When Ruth can throw those pitches with his pinpoint control, that spells trouble for anyone with a bat. Here's Ruth earning a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play against Bowie on May 20th with some help from Gary Sanchez.

Ruth hits the mitt perfectly. It's just one pitch, of course, but it's a great example of his capabilities. The video quality makes it difficult to pick up the ball in motion, but you can make out some movement on it. He hits the outer corner of the plate perfectly, too.

That's Eric Ruth in a nutshell. "You want to keep to keep that hitter as uncomfortable as you possibly can," Ruth said when I asked about mixing and matching with different pitches. "So I think mixing up pitches and throwing pitches in situations where they're not expecting them, that's something to take advantage of." For someone who was a reliever until his junior year of college and didn't even get drafted, Ruth has come quite a long way. He doesn't take pride in succeeding without velocity in an era where scouts look for heat above all else, and doesn't have any big league pitchers he's trying to mimic. "You've just got to go out there and perform, and hopefully you'll get some ground balls."

It certainly sounds like a winning formula. If he keeps this up, and the Yankees continue to be as starved for pitching as they are on the big club, Ruth will find himself in Scranton in short order. He's incredibly fun to watch, and he's very easy to root for. Eric Ruth isn't your typical blue chip prospect, but it may be time for the industry to start paying attention.

Nicolas Stellini is a contributor at Pinstripe Alley, where he writes about the Yankees and covers the Double-A Trenton Thunder. His national coverage can be found at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.