WASHINGTON — One of the few bright spots for the rebuilding Nationals this year has been the play of catcher Keibert Ruiz. The 23-year-old is only in his first full season at the major-league level but has already shown signs of being the franchise catcher Washington hoped it acquired when it traded for him last summer.
Major League Baseball opened fan ballots for the 2022 All-Star Game this week, raising the question of which players the Nationals might be able to send to Los Angeles in July. Juan Soto is the obvious top choice. Even though he hasn’t yet performed at the MVP-caliber level of years past, Soto has still been a productive hitter and should garner plenty of fan votes as one of the most exciting young players in the game.
Beyond Soto, Ruiz stands the best chance of any player on the Nationals’ roster.
“I truly believe Keibert should be looked at,” manager Davey Martinez said in a press conference Wednesday. “He’s still up there in runners thrown out. He’s hitting fairly well for a catcher so I think his name — people should start recognizing him a little bit.”
Ruiz entered play Wednesday ranked fifth in bWAR (0.8) and seventh in fWAR (0.9) among NL catchers, though the disparity between him and most of the players above him was thin. Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras has easily been the best catcher in baseball to this point and his pedigree as a two-time All-Star should make him a slam dunk pick in the fan vote.
Behind him, however, the field is wide open. Ruiz is one of only five NL catchers with at least 200 plate appearances. Among them, he ranks second in batting average (.260), third in on-base percentage (.325) and fourth in OPS (.684). Though he hasn’t provided much home run power, Ruiz is tied for second with 12 doubles while limiting strikeouts better than any of them.
Yet the most impressive part of Ruiz’s game has been his defense. He’s thrown out 11 would-be base stealers, most in the majors. Ruiz has also only allowed one passed ball on the year while picking off three baserunners, joining Oakland A’s catcher Sean Murphy (two) as the only two backstops in baseball with more than one this season.
Ruiz isn’t a rookie, but it’s rare for a catcher of his relative youth to make an All-Star team. Since 2000, the only catchers to earn a selection to the Midsummer Classic in their age-23 season or younger have been Salvador Pérez (2013), Brian McCann (2006-07) and Joe Mauer (2006).
As a result, he may have to go on a tear at the plate to beat out the likes of established players such as J.T. Realmuto, Travis d’Arnaud and Will Smith. Arizona Diamondbacks catcher/center fielder Daulton Varsho has also built a decent case while the Cincinnati Reds’ Tyler Stephenson likely ruined his chances of making it after fracturing his thumb.
All-Star or not, the Nationals have to be thrilled with what they’ve seen out of their young catcher thus far.