The Orioles claimed infielder Rio Ruiz off waivers from the Atlanta Braves Monday, the team announced, continuing the recent trend of new executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias bringing in players he's familiar with from his previous stops to fill in the fringes of the roster.
Ruiz signed for an above-slot $1.85 million with the Houston Astros as a fourth-round pick in 2012, when Elias was a special assistant to general manager Jeff Luhnow and was about to take over the team's amateur scouting department. Houston dealt him to the Atlanta Braves as part of a five-player deal that brought catcher Evan Gattis and reliever James Hoyt to Houston in January 2015, and Ruiz made his major league debut for Atlanta on Sept. 18, 2016.
Ruiz is a career .189 major league hitter in 195 plate appearances over three seasons, playing mostly third base. All four of his home runs came in 2017. He spent most of 2018 with Atlanta's Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett, batting .269/.322/.390 with 25 doubles and nine home runs while starting 49 games at third base, 33 games at first base, 19 games in left field and 11 in right field.
The 24-year-old adds a left-handed bat to an Orioles infield mix that has Chris Davis entrenched at first base and also features Jonathan Villar, Renato Núñez, Steve Wilkerson and Breyvic Valera, though the last two are more utility types at this point. Ruiz has one minor league option remaining, and is the second straight acquisition the Orioles have made with connections to Elias’ past stops after right-hander Josh Lucas was signed to a minor league contract last week. Lucas was a 2010 draftee of the St. Louis Cardinals when Elias and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal held sway in their draft room.
Elias downplayed Ruiz’s connection to him Monday, saying it was instead more about him as a player.
“I can't say that the fact that he was drafted by us at the Astros was a huge factor in it, other than the comfort that it gives you that you know he's a good person and a good teammate,” Elias said. “That sort of information is easier to come by because of that, but we feel that he's a good fit for us right now. He's a left-handed bat, primary position is third base. We have a need for some depth there. We have an opportunity for some competition there. The fact that he's left-handed and Renato Núñez is right-handed works out well, and he's going to be another option for us in the infield and just provide some competition and depth in that regard. He's also a young, 24-year-old with good plate-discipline skills in his career. I think he's got some power that he's yet to really get into, so there's some upside in that regard. Regardless of who drafted him, we would have made this claim.”
In a corresponding roster move, the Cardinals claimed right-hander Ryan Meisinger, a Calvert County native who made his debut with the major league team June 29, off waivers. An 11th-round pick in 2015, Meisinger made 18 appearances for the Orioles (including one bullpen game start) and had a 6.43 ERA with a 1.333 WHIP in 23 innings.
By waiving Meisinger, the Orioles ensure they still have two open 40-man roster spots for Thursday's Rule 5 draft. The Orioles have the first pick by virtue of their 115-loss season in 2018.