Name: Yordany Ramirez
DOB: July 31, 1984
A .231 career hitter entering the year, Ramirez has never made it through a season without some injury halting his progress. This year was more of the same – with one distinct difference. He actually hit well down the stretch for the Lake Elsinore Storm.
On July 9 he was hitting .195 and it seemed that another year of development with the bat would be lost. He wasn't "getting it". Instead of waiting for his pitch he would swing at everything. While he has the bat control to put wood on ball it resulted in a lot of weakly hit grounders and sure outs.
Something changed on the way to the market. After striking out ten times in a seven game span, Ramirez began to understand that to be effective with his talent he had to use it smartly. Instead of swinging at the balls touching the corners of the plate he would wait for his pitch to drive. While his walk numbers did not increase, the amount of solidly hit balls did. He went on to hit .308 over the next 40 games – showing the type of five-tool ability that the Padres believed he possessed and found himself going from forgotten man to prospect again.
"He was actually under .100 for the first month and a half," 2006 Lake Elsinore hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said. "Then he started coming on and got hurt – he hurt his back – and has fought through injuries – tendonitis in the back of his knee. For me, he has come a long way with the bat. He has a much better idea of what he is doing at the plate.
"Always keep it simple. The simpler you can make it the easier for them. The more you can cut down on movement and head movement and make the approach shorter, the easier it is to make adjustments as you go on."
The positive from all of this included his resurgence after missing a good portion of the year with a knee injury that led to hamstring problems.
Ramirez is one of the rare players who possess above average speed, power, fielding prowess and a fantastic arm. The only thing he may never have is the ability to draw a walk with 41 free passes drawn in 270 career games.
But his fielding, today, is the best in the system, including the major leagues. We say that confidently even with Mike Cameron patrolling centerfield for the Padres. He has a laser arm that is accurate and reads the ball off the bat better than any player in recent memory. He glides effortlessly to the ball and is adept at positioning the other fielders – a role he took to this season in center for Lake Elsinore.
"Yordany helped out a lot - he was taking control of (positioning the outfielders)," 2006 Storm manager Rick Renteria explained. "We were watching and he was alleviating some of what we do – we are watching but Yordany saw a lot of these guys (from the Midwest League). He really does cover the ground."
"Yordany has been fun to watch," outfielder Peter Ciofrone said. "He helped me with my positioning against lefties and righties. He has definitely helped me a lot to see how he gets after balls. It has definitely been good having him in center to teach me a little bit."
"He is one of those kids that hopefully we can put in a position to combine his defense and offense abilities," Renteria added. "He has some skills and definitely has tools to work with."
His abundance of tools in the field has always been present but the bat has eluded him. There is the belief that if he hits .270 at his stops in the minors that he is a major league level talent because of his superior defensive skills.
But, the Padres want and expect more. His on base percentage will never be great without walks so it is crucial for him to continue to hit. Two months just isn't enough to silence the skeptics.
"If he had Chad Huffman's look in his eye, we might have a superstar," Padres' minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk said. "If you look at Yordany, he has a real insecure look."
Ramirez is also an excellent baserunner with above average first step quickness. He hasn't been able to use that speed as effectively as he wants because he simply hasn't been on base enough to get comfortable but he could swipe 30 bags a year with ease, provided he reaches base.
"Yordany Ramirez runs very well," Renteria said. "He runs the bases in a way that lets him take advantage of mistakes."
While Ramirez has been in the system for five years, he has logged just 54 games, on average, per season, and must stay healthy to continue his development. He will likely begin the 2007 season in Lake Elsinore again where he can build upon the late season confidence. He will be 22-years old until the end of July and has that working in his favor. It comes down to the bat for the Dominican product and the hope is the late season signs are earmarks for the future.
"I think health is a big part of it and I just had back surgery a couple of months ago so I know what it is like to play with back problems," Padres' roving hitting instructor Rob Deer said. "When you get in a situation – if you were to see Yordany three years ago and you were to see him now and you have a five-tool player you almost have to be patient and let it run its course. I think next year is a perfect example of letting him get healthy, starting off the season in Elsinore and I am a big fan of his because I know the improvements he has made, I know the adjustments he has made and he can go out and hit 25 homers and hit .320 next year and we have something for down the road."
"From a defensive standpoint, not only on that club in Lake Elsinore but in the entire system, the best defensive player is Yordany Ramirez," Padres roving defense instructor Tom Gamboa said. "It remains to be seen how far Yordany will get with the bat. This is two years in a row in Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore where you have to hit for some average to get to the big leagues. Certainly, his skills to run, throw and field – he is a bona fide major leaguer in those three areas right now. It is just a question of how far that bat can carry him."
"We have dreamed about this guy and still are," Bryk added. "This year he has to start putting up some numbers to warrant our dreams."
ETA: At some point, Ramirez will have to be pushed and it could come this year. He showed tremendous progress late in the year and if he carries it over to next season he could find himself on the rise. There are few players with his innate ability but the time to produce has come. He has all the tools you look for but must put them into application. If he does not show progress in the coming year his reign in the Padres' system could end. Putting together the season that many scouts have expected could propel him to San Diego.