Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 7/27/12

Generally, prospects are like mozzarella: the fresher the better. Sometimes, it takes some aging to get the cheese to taste just right. The Marlins are hoping it’s the latter more than the former with Justin Ruggiano. The outfielder is in the midst of a breakout with the Fish, and even with some regression, he’ll have one of the better (older) breakouts of all time. He’s also 30. What that number means for the future of this particular cheese is not great, though.

Ruggiano’s having a great-tasting season. Despite a heavy step back, his ZiPs projection thinks he’ll remain above average the rest of the way and still end up showing offense that was 20% better than league average. This year, the big difference has mostly come from finally putting up the walk rate (10.2% MiLB BB%) and power (.196 MiLB ISO) that he always showed in the minor leagues. Now in Miami, he’s playing center field, walking at a double-digit pace, and thumping the ball (seven home runs and 15 doubles in 137 plate appearances). The batted ball luck is helping him right now, but either way he’s having an excellent season, and he’s 30, and he only had 207 major league plate appearances before this season.

Champ Summers only had 128 plate appearances before he turned 30. He had 396 plate appearances before he was above league average for the first time, at age 33. Then he spent two years hitting 37 combined home runs, mostly in the Tigers outfield. He hit eight home runs before 1979 and eight home runs after 1980. The Champ was out of baseball at 42 after being a part-timer for another four years. His was a two-year run fueled by power he didn’t show before or after.

Jose Morales had 48 plate appearances in the major leagues before he turned 30. He was 36 before he was 20% better than league average for 100 plate appearances. That year he suddenly stopped striking out (7.1% that year, 12.7% career) and hit a career-high eight home runs in a career-high 269 trips to the plate. The backup first baseman (was once a catcher) never got 100 plate appearances in a season again.

Oscar Salazar had just 23 plate appearances before he was 30. The year he turned 30 — 2008 — he had a 127 wRC+ for the Orioles. The next season, he had 154 PAs between Baltimore and San Diego and had a 131 wRC+. Then his power disappeared and he only got another 148 plate appearances in San Diego in 2010 before retiring. If his UZR numbers are to be believed (275.2-inning sample), his defense was terrible (-28.9 UZR/150). He was made redundant by Jorge Cantu in San Diego in 2010. He last played in Miami’s organization, with no power in 143 PAs in 2011.

Since free agency started in 1974, only 412 players over 30 have managed to put up over 100 plate appearances with a wRC+ of 120 or better. Nobody has had fewer plate appearances before they had an excellent season over the age of 30 than Oscar Salazar. Only three players on that list had fewer major league plate appearances before they turned 30 than Justin Ruggiano.

You can move up the list from Ruggiano — past Lloyd McClendon, Art Howe, Benny Ayala, and the backup catchers Todd Pratt, Eddie Perez, Doug Mirabelli, Bruce Bochy, and Bob Brenly — and it’s really not till you get to the Ken Phelps, Chris Denorfia, Olmedo Saenz, Matt Franco group that your ears begin to prick up about the name as a player. Mike Easler got almost exactly three times as many plate appearances as Ruggiano before he turned 30. Between Easler and Salazar, you’ve got a sample of 19 players. The longest completed career (sorry Andres Torres and Chris Denorfia) of that sample belongs to Jim Eisenreich (4391 PA). The average career of the group lasted 1807 plate appearances.

The odds are long against Ruggiano being a good cave-aged Stoughton cheddar (or emerging star) at his age. Most likely, he’ll settle in as a fourth or fifth outfielder and occasional pinch-hitter as his peak subsides. When Mike Easler is the patron saint of your cohort, it’s not a great sign for your playing career. It doesn’t seem to speak ill of your ability to become a big-league manager, on the other hand.


GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Does NFL have a motive to settle with Tom Brady?

Big Ten coaches opposed to 9-game conference schedule

Winners and losers of the 2015 MLB trade deadline

Hill arrested for reckless driving, clocked going 107 mph

Diamondbacks GM: Padres wanted Goldschmidt for Kimbrel

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

'Rowdy' Roddy Piper dead at 61

Mets acquire Yoenis Cespedes from Tigers

Sheldon Richardson escapes felony charges for recent arrest

Lawyer who litigated against NFL: Brady plays every game

Cowboys should sign interested RB Steven Jackson

Jameis Winston confirmed as Buccaneers starting QB

Junior Seau’s daughter will speak at hall of fame induction

Golden State Warriors: the rich get richer

NFL, Brady could settle to avoid appeal documents going public

Miguel Herrera apologizes for costly Philly airport fight

Russell Wilson contract $60 million guaranteed? Not so fast

Bernard Pollard backs Tom Brady, disagrees with suspension

Cardale Jones continues to show love toward Ronda Rousey

Joseph Randle on Steven Jackson: ‘He’s at home watching’

Evan Turner reps Ohio State after NBA Africa game

The Wind Up: a wild and crazy trade deadline

DeMarco Murray: fantasy football’s riskiest pick

Jim Harbaugh has interesting name for rival Ohio State

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Five potential NFL salary cap casualties this preseason

Winners and losers of the 2015 MLB trade deadline

Pirates do Pirates at deadline: Neat little moves

Mets acquire Cespedes from Tigers

Ranking the NFL’s 32 head coaches

Five worst baseball trades since 2000

Examining the state of the NFL

Puig: Broke out of slump by playing baseball video games

Braves dump risk, exchange it for risk

David Price traded to Blue Jays

The indefensible Hulk Hogan

Cole Hamels chose Rangers over Astros

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker