By Peter Gleason
The Phillies have so many new faces in their Clearwater spring training camp that you literally need a scorecard.
But one old face sticks out.
Carlos Ruiz, 37, is one of only two remaining members of the Phillies’ 2008 World Series championship team. In fact, he is only one of two remaining members from the Phillies’ last postseason team in ’11.
Ryan Howard is the other, but Ruiz stood alone on Thursday morning at Bright House Field as Phillies pitchers and catchers held their first official workout. The team conducts its first full-squad workout on Tuesday.
“I miss those guys,” Ruiz said. “They’re part of my family.”
Ruiz is the oldest player in Phillies camp, which is likely his last. He is in the final year of a three-year, $26 million contract, following the worst season of his career. The Phillies have a $4.5 million option for Ruiz for 2017, but unless he finds the fountain of youth, they are expected to take a $500,000 buyout instead.
Ruiz hit .211 with two home runs, 22 RBIs and a .575 OPS in 320 plate appearances in 2015. Catcher Cameron Rupp started 56 of the team’s final 92 games (60.9 percent) and 33 of the final 49 (67.3 percent). That trend is expected to continue this year.
“I’m going to try to enjoy every day,” Ruiz said. “This is part of my life, and I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. I know I want to enjoy my teammates, this organization. … But I don’t want to think about that because I’m real excited about this year.”
Some Phillies fans have wondered what value a catcher like Ruiz might have in 2016. The reality is he has plenty, even if he cannot perform like he has in the past.
Ruiz has been one of the most-respected and well-liked players in the clubhouse for years. The Phillies are looking for leadership. Ruiz can provide some.
Ruiz obviously has a wealth of knowledge he can impart upon Rupp and catching prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp. Ruiz has caught some of the most dominant pitchers of his era, including Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Jonathan Papelbon and Brad Lidge. Ruiz has started 46 postseason games, too. He caught some of the most masterful pitching performances in Phillies postseason history, including Hamels’ run as a World Series and National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player in 2008, as well as Halladay’s no-hitter in Game 1 of the 2010 NL Division Series.
Think Ruiz can’t teach a few things to the Phillies’ young pitchers and catchers?
“I like to be around young guys because they make me feel young, too,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz got to camp earlly and has already been working with Alfaro, who is one of MLB.com’s top 100 prospects.
“He has good hands and he can swing the bat,” Ruiz said. “He’s a guy you have to keep your eyes on. He’s young, but he can play.”
But Ruiz wants to offer more than advice and knowledge. He still believes he can play. He battled some weakness in his left shoulder last season, following surgery in 2014. He said the shoulder feels fine.
“Whatever happened last year is over,” Ruiz said. “I come into this year with a different mentality, ready to go.”
So if Ruiz proves he still has something left in the tank, how much longer would he like to play?
“Right now I go day to day,” Ruiz said. “I don’t know how long. It depends on how my body feels, but right now I feel good. I feel strong. I believe I can still play every day. It’s not in my hands. The only thing I can control is what I do on the field. I’m ready. We’ll see what happens.”