READING, Pa. -- Watch Phillies prospect Darin Ruf take an at-bat, and it's obvious he can hit. If you've seen Ruf play for Double-A Reading in the last two weeks, there's a good chance you've witnessed him take a pitcher yard.
Ruf is arguably the story of the year of the Phillies' farm system. A 26-year-old and former 20th-round Draft pick, Ruf is .010 batting average points and five RBIs away from leading the Eastern League in every Triple Crown category.
Ruf has belted a league-leading 29 home runs, including an astounding six in the R-Phils' past five games entering Thursday and 11 in their past 13 games. Ruf's 249 total bases are 37 more than the next best.
"He's making it to the point where you can't ignore him," R-Phils pitcher Trevor May said. "It's amazing. It's getting to the point where you can call [a] home run every at-bat, and when you're wrong, it's more rare than when you're right."
Ranked the 12th-best prospect in the Phillies organization by MLB.com's Prospect Watch, Ruf is strong, possesses a short swing and has great plate discipline. He hits for average and, as evidenced by his 2012 campaign, for power.
"It's real impressive," Reading manager Dusty Wathan said. "He's been patient all year. He really sits on his pitch. Right now, he's in a period of about 10 days to two weeks where when he gets that pitch, he doesn't miss it."
Here, finally, is the catch. Ruf is a first baseman. His advancement to the Phillies is blocked by Ryan Howard. The organization hopes it has a solution for that problem -- the Phils are experimenting with Ruf in left field.
While it's too early to tell if Ruf could have a future in left field -- he's played 16 games at the position this year after playing 10 combined games between 2010-11 -- he is set to continue to work on it in winter ball in Venezuela, which begins in mid-October.
"He's not the fleetest of foot, but he takes great angles," Wathan said. "He's intelligent on where he throws the ball. He catches everything he gets to. I think he's done a fine job out there. ... The more games he can get out there, the more experience he can get, the better off he's gonna be."
Though he lacks the range some others possess, Ruf hopes to make up for that with the mental aspects of the position -- positioning, reading the ball well off the bat and getting good jumps.
Before Reading's game on Monday night, Ruf worked with Phillies outfield/baserunning coordinator Andy Abad, a former Major Leaguer, on footwork in the outfield. He also shags fly balls as often as he can.
"Whatever I can do to help," Ruf said of the possible position switch. "If they think that left field might be an opportunity for me, I'm going to give it my best kind of effort out there. I think so far I've done a good job of holding my own."
Ruf has taken a different road than the highly touted prospects who sign out of high school. Undrafted after his junior year at Creighton, the Phillies finally took a waiver on him after his senior season, in the 20th round of the 2008 Draft. Since then, he's hit his way through each level, though mostly for average. His 17 home runs for Class A Clearwater in 2011 marked the first time in his career he notched double-digit homers. To say he's built off that mark in 2012 would be an understatement.
"I realize I've only been playing pro ball now for three years," Ruf said. "I took a different path than a lot of guys have. It's the only path that I was presented with taking, really."
It's a path that means he'll likely have to impress people for a little longer than a first-or-second-round Draft pick.
"That's just the way the business goes," Wathan said. "It's like any business. If they bring you in and didn't start you on a high salary, you're going to have to do something real special to get noticed by the CEO. It's part of this business."
"He's doing what he can do at this level," the skipper added. "He's a very professional guy. He's level headed, whether he goes 0-for-4, 4-for-4, hits a couple homers or struggles, which I think is a huge asset of his."
Many have certainly taken notice of Ruf now. A promotion to Triple-A before season's end is possible, though at this point, he could just finish the season with Reading. If Ruf improves his outfielding skills over the winter, Ruf would put himself on solid ground heading into Spring Training.
There is no denying that his bat is valuable.
"Keep doing what I've been doing all year," Ruf said of his goals for the season's final 19 regular-season games. "A lot can change in three weeks. You can have four good months and three bad weeks and your season kind of just looks pretty mediocre. I've got to finish strong -- I'd hate to blow all the success I've had so far this year -- and just set myself up for maybe future opportunities."
Jake Kaplan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.