The big news from Durham isn’t a Desmond Jennings or Matt Moore promotion, but a Justin Ruggiano promotion. That roster move is married to Dan Johnson being designated for assignment, thus possibly ending his career with the Rays whether he clears waivers or not (Johnson has been outrighted twice before, so he can elect free agency instead should he choose).
Ruggiano is a lot like Elliot Johnson, in that he seems suited for a bench spot. He has his usefulness as a right-handed outfielder, but his ceiling is low and his minor league numbers have varied from impressive to mediocre. He has more than 2,000 Triple-A plate appearances with a career slash line of .290/.362/.473. Those numbers are buoyed by solid offerings in 2008 (.315/.374/.537) and 2011 (.308/.388/.521) with a pair of lackluster performances for a player of his age (now 29) in Triple-A. My guess is Ruggiano will see some time versus lefties in the outfield, but otherwise I cannot imagine he gets constant burn.
Johnson is the causality here. Last night I wrote that he would be in baseball purgatory until the Rays needed a roster spot, and sure enough, here it is. At least it was quick. Casey Kotchman isn’t the long-term option, frankly I don’t really know that he is a short-term option. Kotchman has the second-lowest extra-base hit rate on the Rays (ahead of only Reid Brignac) and one of the highest rates of singles (per plate appearances) in the majors. Kotchman got his vision cleared in the offseason and at least one thing is for sure—he doesn’t have doubles vision.
Some will say wait until Kotchman cools off, but he already has. Over the last 45 plate appearances, he is hitting .310/.356/.357. His batting average on balls in play is dipping towards career norms by the plate appearance and added exposure to lefties is not going to help. Perhaps the best plan here is to let Matt Joyce get more time versus lefties while using Ben Zobrist at first base and Ruggiano or Fuld in left field. Is it ideal? No, but then again, having Kotchman as the team’s first baseman isn’t ideal either.
As for Johnson, I feel an immense sadness towards him. He provided numerous moments of utter euphoria, often at times where defeat felt imminent—those are always the sweetest—and when it was his turn to sit on the throne, he received less than a month before being pushed aside. And for whom? Not for Russell Branyan or a worthy competitor, but for one of the worst first basemen in baseball over the last several years.
Big hits may by you infamy, but they don’t buy you infinity. I hope Johnson lands another gig and gets another shot, if only to deliver one more great moment—not for us, not for other fans, but for himself, the Great Pumpkin.