It has been a long road back for Oakland A's pitching prospect Julio Ramos, who had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and missed two full seasons of development. But the 6'1'' left-hander is finally getting another crack at full-season ball and has excelled during short stints with Low-A Burlington.
After being turned loose from Arizona for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, Ramos has been impressive in nine outings between the Bees and short-season Vermont this season. Pitching three innings in each of those outings, Ramos has posted a 1.33 ERA while compiling an outstanding K:BB ratio of 21:2.
In fact, his fastball velocity has jumped slightly from 92 miles-per-hour (pre-surgery) to 94 on a few occasions with Burlington. He's allowed just one earned run on seven hits in his first 12 innings of work in the Midwest League.
"I'm throwing all of my pitches – slider, change-up, two-seam fastball and four-seam fastball – pretty well," said Ramos, who was a non-drafted free agent A's signee in 2006.
"My fastball and change-up location are pretty good right now, and my slider is coming around. My fastball velocity has come back pretty good, and I hope it keeps getting even better."
His comeback was fraught with setbacks, much like many pitchers face in their road to recovery. Shortly after his elbow operation, Ramos was also fallen by a bone spur in his pitching arm which led to even more time off the mound.
"It was very hard," he said. "I spent like two years in Arizona trying to get back. I had a little setback not long after surgery and had to deal with that. After that, it seemed like all I did was just throw on the side in bullpen sessions."
Ramos is currently limited to 30 pitches – or three innings – as the A's look to build his arm strength and stamina back up. The schedule is reminiscent to the one reliever Pedro Figueroa went through in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Although what Ramos has done up to this point is a bonus, A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman says the biggest test will come next season when they'll completely take the reins off of him.
"He's running through the same process (as Figueroa)," said Lieppman in a recent interview with OaklandClubhouse. "It's caution first as we bring him back. Next year will be the big year for Ramos. This is just a teaser as he does his three innings.
"I'm chomping at the bit to say ‘hey, throw him back out there another couple innings.' He's been really good and did that in Vermont. He's surpassed our expectations about what we thought he would be able to do at this point. It's free and easy, he's aggressive."
Although it has been all systems go since Ramos returned to an affiliate, he is making minor tweaks here and there as he deals with the pitching mechanics related to his comeback.
That has meant side sessions with Oakland's minor-league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, who worked with Ramos in Burlington recently.
"He came here a couple weeks ago and I worked on him with my shoulder mechanics," Ramos said.
"I was opening a little bit, so he worked with me to close it up. I feel a lot better and it seems like my arm's not getting as fatigued. It's improved my location and I can throw my pitches where I want them."
Ramos is just happy to be back to the point where he's moving up the ranks in Oakland's minor-league system. While in Arizona, Ramos leaned heavily on Michael Ynoa, who is also on the road to recovery after elbow surgery.
"It was really hard after two years of surgery – I'm doing the best I can," he said. "It feels really, really good. I'm the same pitcher as I was before and am just getting better every day. I thank God, because after that whole experience I've come back and done very well in this league. I want to keep it going.
"[Michael and I] spent a lot of time together and he was my roommate. We talk all the time. He's pretty good right now, too, and threw 95 [MPH] the other night. We worked pretty hard together in Arizona."
Assuming the 24-year-old Ramos continues to pitch well during his trial run, look for the A's to fast-track him next season much like they did with Figueroa this spring.