Rangers prospect Ramirez makes big jump
Righty moved from Class A Advanced to Triple-A after one start
Rangers pitching prospect Neil Ramirez understands that when opportunity comes calling, it's not a good time to screen your calls.
So when the Rangers asked the right-hander to make a somewhat unusual jump from the Class A Advanced Carolina League up to Triple-A Round Rock for a spot start, he went above and beyond filling in for the ill Eric Hurley, tossing six shutout innings against a prospect-laded Omaha team.
"I tried to make the most of it," the understated 21-year-old said. "I just tried to look at it as another start. I tried to not do too much, stick with my routine. That's basically about it."
If that were the end of the story, it wouldn't mean all that much. Anyone, after all, can have a good day. But that victory on April 13 led to another Triple-A start, during which Ramirez picked up another victory by giving up just one unearned run over five innings, allowing two hits and three walks while striking out nine. In three total starts for the year -- including his first outing back in the Carolina League -- Ramirez has yet to give up an earned run in 15 2/3 combined innings. He's allowed just six hits for a .115 batting average against.
"We may be a little aggressive with him at Triple-A, but we were in a bind last week and needed a starter there, and because of his work ethic, he had earned a shot," Rangers farm director Scott Servais said. "He has taken the opportunity and run with it. He will stay in Triple-A for the time being."
What makes this recent turn of events even more improbable is that Ramirez had kind of fallen off the prospect map for a while. He was part of a big high-school pitching haul drafted by the Rangers back in 2007. First-rounders Blake Beavan and Michael Main have since been traded, leaving Ramirez, the sandwich pick taken No. 44 overall, to carry the banner of that class.
An elbow issue allowed him to throw just 66 1/3 innings in what was supposed to be his taste of full-season ball in 2009. He walked 41 in that span and the Rangers sent him back to the Class A South Atlantic League in 2010. There, Ramirez had a healthy season in which he struck out 142 in 140 1/3 innings, greatly improving his control (37 walks).
He created some buzz this spring, lighting up the radar gun in big league camp, touching the upper 90s with his fastball. He's added some strength to his 6-foot-3 frame, leading to added velocity that he can maintain. His two secondary offerings have come a long way, a big reason why he's been able to go from somewhat forgotten to the top of the system in a relatively short time.
"It's a tremendous story!" Servais exclaimed. "He's the only pitcher I've ever seen that has been able to change his arm action. Our pitching coaches in the Minor Leagues have done a great job with him and to Neil's credit, he has developed an understanding of his delivery and he can now make proper adjustments himself. He's a good athlete who has come up with a Roy Halladay-type of workout routine."
"I didn't try to think about the arm too much," Ramirez said. "I cleaned up my delivery, as far as direction to the plate. I'm still working on it. I had a real long arm action in the back and it created some timing issues. Sometimes when I try to get too much, I do it in the back instead of trying to get out front. It's definitely something I'll always have to hammer in my head to the point where I can do it every single time."
Routine and consistency seem to be the key words. It wasn't until the 2010 season that Ramirez could find any sense of it, with the injury-shortened 2009 campaign not allowing him to settle in and get a true feel of what it was like to be in a full-season rotation. Once he got into that rhythm, he began to understand how his preparation in between starts was the key for him to have success beyond one outing and be able to perform well each time out.
"I was able to get acclimated to the every-five-days thing," Ramirez said. "I really learned to push my body to be ready for that fifth day. It gave me that confidence that I'd done everything I could to be ready for that start. Then, I could just go out there, have fun and go after guys. That and keeping an even keel, not get too high or too low.
"It's definitely good to see some results as far as getting out there and getting guys out. You're a competitor your whole life and you go out and get smacked around. You have to trust in the process, and I did that. The work and everything I'm doing off the field will come through in the long run."
For now, it's given him the chance to show what he can do in the Pacific Coast League, the Minors' top level. Ramirez has no idea how long this will last and he's trying hard to not concern himself with such matters. The way he sees it, he'll take the ball every fifth day, regardless of the uniform he's wearing, and let the proverbial chips fall where they may.
"I try not to think about it too much. All that stuff will take care of itself in the long run," Ramirez said. "I try to be competitive and, hopefully, if I can do that every time I do that and have some results, maybe I can stay.
"But whatever they feel is good for my development, I'm fine with. I think coming up here and seeing what it's like at a higher level, it's helped my confidence a lot. These guys are a lot more patient here, so you have to make pitches and get ahead. It's the same game as it is everywhere. If you can get ahead of guys and make your pitches, you're going to be successful."