It’s December of 2010 and starting pitcher Neil Ramirez is just happy to be healthy. He has just completed his first fully healthy season.
In fact, he is thankful. After being drafted out of high school in 2007 the youngster was eager to put in the work to keep his body trained. He spent that entire off season in Surprise, Arizona. In his mind, he already had his offseason. He was ready to get to work.
Ramirez was working to put his first two minor league seasons far into his rearview mirror. He appeared in 31 games (starting 27 of them) but only amassed a 4-8 record and allowed almost as many walks (82) as hits (83).
Needless to say, command was an issue.
For the 2010 season, Ramirez was back with Hickory. Being with the same team certainly didn't yield the same results. Ramirez started 26 games and went 10-8. More important than his record that year was the fact that he seemed to settle down and find some command. Despite pitching more than twice as many innings as he did in 2009, he actually walked fewer batters (41 in 2009 to 37 in 2010). He also struck out 142 batters in 140 innings.
Things are promising for the youngster. He spends his whole offseason in Arizona, eager to gain any sort of competitive advantage. 2011 saw Ramirez start out with High A Myrtle Beach, but he only appeared in one game. He was then sent to AAA Round Rock and initially skipped AA entirely, although injuries would force him to start 6 games for AA Frisco later in the season. While with the Express, Ramirez started 18 games and went 4-3. His walk rate went back up, issuing 37 free passes in 74 innings. He also continued to strike hitters out, sending 91 back to the dugout disappointed.
When breaking down Ramirez, it is easy to see upside and downside. The youngster’s ceiling is impressive though, has a fastball in the low 90s with an occasional dalliance with the mid 90s. Although it seems to lack significant movement, he is able to
throw it to both sides of the plate with good command. The curve is probably Ramirez's best pitch. It has enormous break, and about 15-17 mph drop off from his fastball. The best thing about his curve, however, is that he can consistently throw it for strikes. That means hitters can't just sit back and wait for a fastball.
There are certainly things to be worked on. His change up lacks command and he throws it infrequently. He needs to work to generate more power from the lower body (the Nolan Ryan staple) but he is only 22, with lots of room to develop. He has shown the tools to do just that, the reason he is near the top of the list.
Realistically, Ramirez is a middle of the rotation starter, but the Rangers know that nothing is more valuable than pitching depth. If he can keep his walk rate down, improve the change up, and stay healthy; he should be a very reliable big leaguer.
ETAA (Estimated Time of Arrival in Arlington): Expect to see Ramirez to put together an impressive 2012 in AAA. If he can keep his health, and earn that invite to spring training, we could see him in Ranger red and blue in 2013.