San Francisco Giants Riding the Pine: Justin Ruggiano

Aug 18, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; New York Mets center fielder Justin Ruggiano (1) hits a grand slam against the San Francisco Giants in the fourth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; New York Mets center fielder Justin Ruggiano (1) hits a grand slam against the San Francisco Giants in the fourth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports /

The latest chapter in Justin Ruggiano’s wild ride of a career brings him back to the West Coast after signing a minor-league contract with the San Francisco Giants. Ruggiano hasn’t stuck around with any given team for too long in the past six years, but as a journeyman looking for a home, he may have signed with the right team at the right time.

Before signing a minor-league contract with the San Francisco Giants on Christmas Eve, Justin Ruggiano endured the highs and lows of professional baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted the senior outfielder out of Texas A&M in the 25th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. In two seasons as an upperclassman, Ruggiano bat .303 with 13 home runs and 84 RBIs in 385 at-bats.

Ruggiano performed well in his first full season, finishing 2005 with a total slash line .323/.409/.521 with 15 home runs, 24 steals, and 66 home runs with the High-A Vero Beach Dodgers and the Double-A Jacksonville Suns.

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Midway through the following season, the Dodgers traded Ruggiano, Dioner Navarro, and Jae Weong Seo to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in exchange for Toby Hall, Mark Hendrickson, and cash.

The outfielder spent the remainder of 2006 with the Montgomery Biscuits and the majority of 2007 with the Durham Bulls before Tampa Bay promoted him as a September call-up. Ruggiano split time with Durham and Tampa Bay in 2008, playing 66 games with the former and 45 with the latter, but made the World Series roster, albeit as a defensive reserve.

Outside of 46 games with the Rays in 2011, Ruggiano spent the entirety of the next three seasons with Durham, a case of too good for the minors, but not good enough for the majors. Tampa Bay designated Ruggiano for assignment after the 2011 season, and he elected for free agency in January of 2012.

The Houston Astros and Ruggiano agreed to a minor-league contract shortly after his decision to become a free agent, but the Astros traded him to the Miami Marlins for catcher Jobduan Morales on May 26th, 2012.

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The trade to South Beach turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Ruggiano fought for playing time and blossomed with Miami, slashing .313/.374/.535 with 13 home runs, 14 steals, and 36 RBIs in 320 plate appearances before injuring his shoulder in late-September.

In 2013, Ruggiano slugged a career-high 18 home runs but saw dips in his batting average and on-base percentage with the Marlins. Miami traded Ruggiano to the Chicago Cubs the ensuing offseason in exchange for outfielder Brian Bogusevic, unofficially kick starting a string of moves which kept Ruggiano consistently packing his bags.

Ruggiano played well as a reserve for the Cubbies in 2014, batting .281 with six home runs and 28 RBIs in 250 plate appearances, but Chicago sent Ruggiano to the Seattle Mariners for Matt Brazis the following offseason.

In 2015, the journeyman’s career came full circle when Seattle traded Ruggiano to Los Angeles for cash considerations shortly after designating him for assignment. The reunion lasted a mere 21 games before Ruggiano elected for free agency and signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers.

Texas selected Ruggiano for the 2016 Opening Day roster with plans of platooning him with Josh Hamilton, but the team designated him for assignment after the first game of the season and released him on July 26th. Ruggiano signed with the New York Mets to replace and injured Jose Reyes but landed on the disabled list on two separate occasions himself with a left hamstring strain and another shoulder injury.

Ruggiano’s decision to sign with the San Francisco Giants is a bit ironic considering that he’s hit the most home runs against them than any other team with seven, including four at AT&T Park. Of those seven home runs against San Francisco, three have come against Madison Bumgarner, one of which was a grand slam last season with the Mets. He’s also teed off on future teammates Matt Cain and Matt Moore as well.

Nevertheless, San Francisco signed him primarily for the power he brings to the table. At the age of 34, Ruggiano cranked out nine home runs in Triple-A and the majors. With a fair amount of plate appearances at the major league level, Ruggiano touching double-digit home runs would not be a surprising revelation.

Ruggiano falls victim to the stereotypical high strikeout totals of a power-hitter, but his batting average and on-base percentage do not suffer as a result because they hover around the league-average.

He can hold his own with the leather, but with a career UZR of -2.3 over 2874.2 innings in the outfield, he isn’t going to turn any heads with his defensive ability. Bruce Bochy would be best off playing him solely in left field, where he has a UZR of 5.6 in 851 innings, but he could play center or right field in a pinch if necessary.

Determining where Ruggiano fits into the equation with the San Francisco Giants is not so black and white as it may seem. Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson are the clear front-runners for the starting job in left field, but no one in the organization has guaranteed they will start.

Next: Riding the Pine: Christian Arroyo

Parker or Williamson claiming left field or Bochy deciding to form a platoon is the most realistic scenario coming out of spring training, but Ruggiano can push the envelope with a strong performance in Arizona. San Francisco signed Ruggiano for a reason, and Parker and Williamson cannot coast to a starting spot.