Jim Leyland, in the Tigers' post-game presser, said the Tigers were sending Lester Oliveros back to the minors and purchasing the contract of Chance Ruffin. You may remember Ruffin was the Tigers' supplemental first round pick from the 2010 draft, coming out of the University of Texas. Immediately after the Tigers picked him, and really before the draft, Ruffin was tagged as the type of college reliever who would be attractive to teams because he was polished and had the potential to move quickly through the minor leagues. Obviously, this speculation turned out to be prescient. Or maybe Dave Dombrowski had July 24th in the pool.
In any event, Ruffin is taking a route to the majors similar to that of Andrew Oliver. He started in the Arizona Fall League, and from there, went straight to Erie in his first assignment as a minor leaguer. In Erie, Ruffin put in 34 innings and struck out an impressive 43 strikeouts. While tallying that notable rate of Ks Ruffin gave up just 23 hits - only two of which were homers - but also walked 16 batters. The Tigers obviously weren't all that troubled by that walk rate since they promoted him to Toledo mid-season. Honestly, though, why should the Tigers start worrying about their relievers walking batters at this juncture? I'm beginning to think they have a deal with DMC, ensuring them good business as we poor fans suffer through ball fours from reliever after reliever.
His time in Toledo was so short - 9 innings - it's barely worth perusing, but it's encouraging that he essentially matched the rates he had been posting in Erie. Encouraging in most instances. The walk rate I could do without. It's troubling, but also surprising. Usually, guys who are polished and destined for the fast track give scouts that confidence partially with their control. The walks are a little less surprising, though, when you realize his two bread and butter pitches are a low 90s fastball with life and a swing-and-miss slider. With all that movement, sometimes you'll get swinging strikes. Sometimes you'll get ball fours.
One other thing I'd like to point out about Ruffin before we sit and wait for his debut in Chicago is that he's not really your typical fastball/slider pitcher in terms of the type of batted balls he gets. Those guys tend to be ground ballers, and in his young pro career, Ruffin has posted a ground-ball rate of just 36%. Well, just one "other thing". Just to ease your minds about those walks, I've literally never heard Ruffin discussed without his tough mentality and makeup coming up. Seriously, it's stated like a fact. "His fastball was 93 mph. His makeup is twenty percent better than an average reliever."
What we will be hoping as Tiger fans is that the stuff that got him picked in the first round, when combined with that makeup, will get him (and us) through those innings and appearances when he's struggling to hit the strike zone. Hopefully, that makeup and moxie will make him the next reliever phenomenon for the Tigers. Just to be safe, though, let's be thankful the Tigers don't seem to need that quite like they did a couple of months ago.