The Amherst High grad is leading affiliated baseball with 24 home runs just over halfway through the minor league season, and the Texas Rangers prospect hopes his hot streak is just beginning.
“I’m just feeding off last year — I had a good year — and I was ready to come back this year and continue to do the same stuff,” Rua said. “I just want to continue to work hard and prove myself.”
Rua was an All-Ohio player for the Comets before three successful seasons at Lake Erie College — he batted .400 his sophomore and junior seasons and set school single-season records in hits (68) and stolen bases (19). For his career with the Division II Storm, Rua batted .374 with 27 home runs and 131 RBIs, and owns the school’s single-season and career home run records.
Rua was rewarded for his efforts by being selected in the 17th round — No. 534 overall — by the Rangers, making him the first Lake Erie College player ever selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Rua said.
“Coach (Al) McConihe and everyone who helped me when I was at Amherst, then my college coach, Brian McGee, who’s a graduate of Amherst, a lot of good times and good connections that really helped to push me and helped me to get to where I am at right now. It’s been great so far — it’s definitely not done — but I couldn’t be happier.”
But it’s Rangers minor league hitting coach Justin Mashore that gets the pat on the back for Rua’s recent power surge. Rua has 21 doubles and a triple to go with his 24 homers, meaning 46 of his 63 hits this season have gone for extra bases.
“(Mashore) has been working with me for the last year and a half and he’s really helped me to find my swing,” Rua said. “Everything we’ve been working on is really starting to show. He’s been the one to help me through this power surge I’m having right now, so he gets a lot of the credit.”
Mashore has provided the mechanics, while Rua continues to add weight to his 6-foot-2 frame and lift to get stronger. Everything is combining to turn the second baseman into a slugger.
“It’s working and it feels good for me at the same time,” Rua said.
Ironically, Rua’s closest competitor in all the minor leagues is teammate Joey Gallo, who sits one back with 23 home runs.
“He’s a great kid. With him only being 18, 19 years old, the numbers he puts up and the things he does on the ballfield … it’s fun for me to watch,” Rua said. “It’s exciting to watch him grow and develop as a player as well. He can go as far as he wants in his baseball career.
“As far as the home run thing, it’s fun for both of us. The teammates joke with us about it and we joke with each other about it … I think that kind of takes the pressure off us, too.”
Rua has traveled the country in his two-year professional career. He played rookie ball in Arizona, then went to play in Spokane, Wash. Now he’s playing throughout the Carolinas with the Class A Hickory Crawdads.
He may be off to another destination soon, as hard-hitting middle infielders are a rare commodity and the Rangers’ Double-A and Triple-A teams might want to take advantage.
“If I end up staying at second base and continue to put up the numbers I’m putting up now, I think that’ll definitely benefit me,” Rua said. “The past two seasons I’ve played third, short and first as well, so I can fill the utility role and do anything like that that helps me stay in the game.”
For now, he wants to get the Crawdads into the postseason. Hickory lost the first half of the season by half a game, so it will need to win the second half to secure a playoff berth.
“We’re in a good spot right now,” said Rua, who played in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game earlier this month. “We started off 5-2 these first two series.
Individually, (the goal is to) just go out there and keep putting the work in and hope everything takes care of itself.”
It’s getting tough for Rua to relax between games, as he can’t wait to throw on the cleats and grab a bat.
“Oh yeah … definitely … without a doubt,” he said. “It’s almost to the point where I wish we’d just skip the early work and just get to the game and try to continue it.”
Not that Rua’s chasing a specific number of home runs. He just likes the way he’s hitting the ball right now and hopes to continue it as long as possible.
“That’s not an ultimate goal of mine, it wasn’t a goal to lead the minor leagues in home runs,” he said. “But if that’s what happens, that’s great. Not only for me, but for my team and the organization as well.
“I had a great first half and I want to continue this in the second half. But baseball is a tough game, so whatever happens happens.”