Neil Ramirez' start to the 2011 season has be awesome. The former 44th overall pick has gone from Low-A wild thing to Triple-A ace in 12 months, which almost never happens. As I was working on updating my top 25 prospect list, I decided to give Ramirez a closer look.
I asked a scout who saw him this spring how Ramirez looked. His answer..."Phenomenal. Couldn't believe my eyes when I saw him. Has come a long way."
Anxious for more, I signed up for MiLB.tv and TV charted his April 29th outing. Seeing a guy from behind the plate is preferred over TV, of course, but some kind of look is better than no look. Here's what I took away from watching Ramirez face 20 batters.
Tall, fairly lean and athletic, Ramirez has a high-3/4 arm slot and utilizes a bit of a drop-and-drive delivery. He was more compact and balanced than I expected, repeating his delivery easily and working at a steady, relaxed tempo.
Ramirez largely worked off his fastball in the first two innings, before becoming curveball-heavy in his final two innings. His fastball doesn't have a lot of movement, but I still saw it as an above-average to plus offering for three reasons.
1) He has a quick arm and good velocity. He sits in the low-to-mid-90s and can reach back for 95+ MPH when he needs it.
2) He throws his fastball from a good downhill plane, which makes it difficult for hitters to match their swing paths up with the pitch.
3) He commands both corners of the plate well and challenges hitters inside. He started some hitters off by sneaking in a fastball on the outside corner then come right back on the hands.
His curveball is also an above-average to plus offering. It's a big, slow, mid-70s bender that can be a swing-and-miss pitch or jelly legger. He spins it really well and it really complements his fastball. Hitters have to stay honest because of his fastball command, and he throws enough quality strikes with his curve that he has no problem freezing up hitters.
And there's more. His changeup is also an above-average to plus offering. It looks like a mini curvebal, a tumble jumbo of an off-speed pitch. He did a good job mixing all three pitches, which left a veteran Triple-A lineup largely hopeless and unable to square up on him, through he threw his fastball and curveball much more frequently than his changeup.
The biggest weakness I saw in Ramirez's game was that when he wasn't on the corners with his fastball, hitters were able to elevate it. He's going to be more of a fly-ball pitcher than ground-ball pitcher, which will lead to some outings where he's hurt by the long ball. Additionally, Ramirez will lose his command at times, especially with his curveball. But he showed a calm, relaxed demeanor on the mound and quickly harnessed his stuff again.
It was impressive to see him maintain his rhythm as well as he did when he was forced to transition from the windup to the stretch. After his catcher dropped an easy, foul popup, he allowed a swinging bunt that split the difference between him and his catcher. Ramirez fielded the ball and was about to rifle a throw to first when his catcher, who was also trying to pounce on the ball, sprung in between him and first base. Realizing that if he made a throw it would drill his catcher in the head, Ramirez chose to hold the ball. After the play, he patted his catcher on the back, took the mound and quickly retired the next batter.
Given the strides that he's made over the last year, I wouldn't put it past Ramirez to continue to fine tune his command and perhaps surface as a top-of-the-rotation starter. He has the present stuff to start in the big leagues. He may be a little sporadic at times, but I could see him surfacing as a No. 3-4 who tallies a lot of strikeouts as soon as the second half of this season.