Rio Ruiz is no stranger to major league ballparks. The Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.) star led his team to a sectional title last year, blasting a home run in Dodger Stadium to cap off the championship run.
Ruiz has no doubt he'll be back there someday, despite missing most of his senior season after doctors discovered a blood clot in March.
For the power-hitting third baseman, it was just a bump in the road. Ruiz is still one of the best prospects at the high school level, and his goal is still to reach the majors before long.
"If this is the worst thing that happens to me, I'm happy with that," Ruiz says. "I'm going to work my way back until I'm 100 percent, and hopefully make my dream come true in the big leagues."
Ruiz, who is ranked No. 30 in the ESPN 100, came into the year labeled as a future first-round MLB draft pick. As a junior, he batted .455 with three home runs and 35 RBIs, showing the kind of left-handed power that attracts scouts by the dozen. He also showed off his powerful right arm on the mound, doubling as Bishop Amat's closer and striking out 18 batters in 11 scoreless innings.
It appeared Ruiz was ticketed for the top of the 2012 draft, a seven-figure signing bonus and a professional career.
"We'd been hearing from everyone that he was going to be a sure first-rounder and a top-20 pick," says Bishop Amat coach Andy Nieto. "He's a complete player, arguably a five-tool guy. The major league scouts loved him."
Unfortunately for Ruiz, he began experiencing soreness and a discomforting, tingling sensation in his right arm before a March 14 game against Chatsworth (Calif.).
"It was the worst pain I've ever felt," Ruiz says. "My arm was swollen and burning. I was able to swing, but I couldn't throw at all. My arm was dead. I could barely pick the ball up."
He was unable to pitch, but Ruiz convinced Nieto to let him DH that day. He actually played two more games in pain before a check swing during a March 20 game left his arm completely numb. Ruiz was shut down, and doctors eventually found the blood clot in his clavicle, near his right armpit.
At first, the doctors were unsure whether he would ever be able to play again. The clot had been forming for a year or two, and it was in a sensitive area. The thought that he may have played his last game hit Ruiz hard.
After further testing, Ruiz received some bittersweet news the next day -- his condition wasn't career-threatening, but he would miss the rest of his senior season.
"I was OK until [the doctor] left the room," Ruiz says. "Then I just broke down in tears. Of course I wanted to play my senior year, but I knew I still had a lot of baseball left."
Ruiz underwent surgery a few days later, and he's been on blood-thinning medication ever since. He also wears a compression sleeve on his arm to help promote blood flow.
His days as a pitcher are over, but he's otherwise expected to make a full recovery. He's already hitting off a tee, and his big league power is returning a little more with each passing day.
But while Bishop Amat games were packed with scouts earlier in the season, those numbers dwindled with Ruiz on the shelf. Phone calls from MLB teams became less and less frequent. His draft status is a mystery, with some still believing him worthy of a first-round pick. Others think his history makes him a big risk.
ESPN MLB analyst Keith Law ranks Ruiz as the No. 51 draft-eligible prospect in the country, a list that includes both high school and college players.
"It's hard to say," says Rudy Ruiz, Rio's father. "We saw [scouts] from pretty much every team. They all came to his games. They stopped because there was nothing to see while he was out, so they focused on other kids. They'd still call and ask how he was doing, but we just don't know how it's going to affect him."
The Scott Boras Corp. is advising Ruiz, and he has already signed with USC. He says he's trying to avoid the buzz altogether and doesn't plan on watching the draft.
"I don't know where I stand as of now," Ruiz says. "I know coming into the year they were saying first round, but that's for my dad and my advisor to worry about. I just have to wait until it happens, and then we'll see what my options are."
If MLB scouts remember Ruiz turning on that pitch and driving it out of Dodger Stadium last summer, it's hard not to think he's worth the gamble.
"I'm fine with the way everything worked out," Ruiz says. "I have no discomfort. My arm feels like it did before the blood clot. But it put everything in perspective. I learned the hard way -- this can end at any time. So I'm doing my best to take advantage of my opportunities and working to get back on the field."