Name: Cesar Ramos
DOB: June 22, 1984
Ramos improved slightly in just about every pitching category this year, as many expected he would as he moved up and the defense around him improved.
With a team defense that was among the league leaders, Ramos' strikeouts per nine innings went up while his walks went down. His average against also dropped and his .271 average on batted balls in play (BABIP) was a testament to Ramos being able to keep more balls on the ground.
In fact, his .271 BABIP was tops in the league, among those who spent the majority of the season in the Texas League.
"He had a solid year," former San Antonio and current Portland manager Randy Ready said. "Cesar has great life on his fastball coming from the left side. He pitched some big games for us and really came through."
Where he excels is in getting the opposition to hit the ball into play while swinging at his pitch. A good day is when the hitter gets himself out by committing to a pitch he doesn't want to swing at.
Part of the increased success came from pitching inside. Last season, hitters were leaning out over the plate waiting for the southpaw's pitches – anticipating Ramos going away, away, away. And he fed into that. This year, with the preaching of pitching coach Glenn Abbott, Ramos began going inside more with confidence.
He favors the two-seam fastball away to get tailing action, causing hitters to roll over on the pitch and hit ground balls. His four-seamer is reserved for right-handed hitters – when he wants to come inside to keep them off the plate.
Ramos' velocity sits in the high-80s and will top out at 89-90 MPH and there isn't much of a difference between his two- and four-seamer in terms of velocity. The two-seamer, however, has great late movement and sink, proving to be more of a ground ball pitch than in the past with his improved secondary pitches.
"Cesar Ramos did the same thing (as Josh Geer) – understanding how to pitch inside," former San Antonio and current Portland pitching coach Glenn Abbott said. "He has good life on his fastball but does not have that kind of life where he can stay away, stay away."
Shelving the curveball, Ramos has focused more on a three-pitch arsenal that includes a slider and changeup while mixing in a cutter that has very good action.
"Ramos has really improved since last year, especially with his cutter," catcher Colt Morton said. "Ramos gets a lot of his outs by going up in the zone."
The changeup has become a more effective pitch over the last year. A hard worker that is constantly trying to shore up his secondary pitches, his off-speed pitch has shown more consistency.
In the past, he had been a little too predictable, especially when he was behind in the count. Now, the changeup is a pitch he can use to get a called strike or get players chasing away.
Ramos' slider has shown to be solid, at times, and losing the curveball should help him develop more consistency with the pitch. It is a pitch that he has had a tough time getting called for strikes, and that will be essential moving forward.
"Location-wise – he is constantly working on his secondary stuff," Ready said. "At times, his slider was very effective. At times, his changeup was very effective. He just needs a little more consistency and something to put hitters away from Double-A and on up. He was very consistent for us. Again, when he took the mound our club was confident we could win the game."
His walks were down this season but still high for a starting pitcher. He averaged 2.36 walks per nine innings and will try and be too fine with his secondary pitches.
What he lacks is a true put-away pitch that the southpaw can go to when he absolutely needs an out. Working on his secondary pitches has become something of a yearly task, and he will need to prove he has that one pitch to get hitters out at any level.
The occasional pitch left up in the zone has troubled Ramos, and, at this level, hitters don't miss the pitch. He allowed a career-high 15 homers in 2007 after yielding nine the season before in the California League – a known hitter's paradise.
"He has better stuff than (Josh) Geer and (Manny) Ayala but hasn't figured out how to use it as well as those guys – location, command," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "He has better stuff, though."
The California native fields his position well and ended up leading the Texas League in fielding percentage among pitchers. He also has a good pickoff move and keeps runners close, more than helping his own cause.
ETA: Ramos is slated for Triple-A in 2008 and will be a phone call away from the majors. Seeing his debut in September appears to be a foregone conclusion with a chance at competing for a roster spot in 2009. To reach those marks, he must continue to command his fastball while improving his secondary pitches.
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