Name: Neil Ramirez
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: May 25, 1989
Acquired: 2007 Amateur Draft, 1st round (supplemental)
Right-hander Neil Ramirez, a supplemental first-round selection in the 2007 draft, appeared to be slipping after the '09 campaign. While he yielded only 58 hits in 66.1 innings, his fastball velocity was down a tick, he struggled to throw strikes with consistency, and he wasn't able to find a feel for his changeup.
After being sidelined for nearly half of the '08 and '09 seasons with non-pitching related injuries, Ramirez returned to Hickory in 2010 and got in his first full-season workload. And he began to take off.
The Virginia Beach native got off to a tough start in April, posting a 7.79 ERA over his first five appearances. But he gradually improved throughout the year.
From the beginning of July through the remainder of the season, Ramirez made 12 appearances (11 starts). Over that stretch, he posted the following line – 64.2 innings, 68 hits, 14 walks, 71 strikeouts, 3.20 ERA.
Brad Holman, who worked as Ramirez's pitching coach in 2010, credited the progression to his pitcher's dedication and improved mechanics.
"Neil has really taken his career by the horns, so to speak," Holman said. "He's probably the hardest worker out of any of the kids here. He has a plan, he has a purpose.
"His delivery, when he came here last year, was very rotational. And he struggled with not just command––he struggled with throwing strikes, period. He is to the point now where he has learned so much about his delivery that he could probably teach it."
When Ramirez was struggling to command his fastball in '09, Holman worked with the prospect to simplify his windup (shown in the video below). And as Ramirez now shows the ability to repeat his delivery, the adjustment appears to be paying dividends.
"We made that adjustment last year with him, because the straight step-back and the pivot to the balance point is actually an exaggerated rotational movement," the pitching coach said. "That was something that he struggled with. So to simplify for him, we just turned him sideways and abbreviated––the pivot foot is already pivoted, the hips are already turned so he doesn't have to turn to get a balance point. It has just been a simple approach for him to repeat his delivery."
While Ramirez's fastball velocity sat around 90-91 mph two seasons ago, it jumped back into the 92-93 mph range with consistency last summer. Holman believes the windup––and getting Ramirez's strong frame going completely toward the plate––contributed to the spike.
"There is still a weight transition, but it's just a more vertical transition as opposed to a horizontal transition," he said. "That gets the energy working behind the baseball, and obviously energy that goes toward home plate is going to help a baseball going toward home plate."
The 21-year-old appears to be back on track as a prospect, profiling for two plus pitches coming from a strong 6-foot-3 frame. The Rangers now hope Ramirez can continue showing similar progress in 2011.
"He's as strong as an ox," Holman said. "The kid works his butt off. It has been a combination of a lot of things. But credit to him. His focus is on the prize, there's no doubt about it. He's moving in the right direction."
Also See: Ramirez shows dedication over offseason (March 10, 2010)
Rangers Minor League Notes (March 15, 2010)
Ramirez harnessing stuff (August 18, 2010)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Brad Holman (August 22, 2010)
Rangers Minor League Mailbag (August 27, 2010)
Seven teams, seven sleepers (December 26, 2010)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: After working anywhere between 88-93 mph (sitting 90-91) in '09, Ramirez's plus velocity returned last season. He showed the ability to hold his velocity deep into starts, often sitting at 92-93 and bumping up to 96 late in games. Among the primary reasons for the resurgence were his improved mechanics, which helped him begin to harness his control and fastball command. Ramirez chopped his walk rate from 13.4% in '09 to an excellent 6.2% last season. The command still must be tightened up a bit, as he has a tendency to work up in the zone. His four-seamer can jump on hitters with some heavy late movement and, in showing the ability to repeat his mechanics with greater frequency, he has a chance to develop above-average command.
Other Pitches: Ramirez's upper-70s curveball already borders on being a plus pitch––he just needs to command it with a little more consistency. The breaking ball is a hard, sharp downer that was key in last season's 142-strikeout performance, which was second-best in the Sally League. Coming into the 2010 campaign, he'd never displayed much feel for his well below-average chanegup, but the pitch improved along with his mechanics. While the 84-86 mph change can still get a bit too firm at times, the pitch has some tumbling action and he did a much better job of throwing it for strikes. For the first time in his career, the offering has begun to flash 50-grade (average) potential.
Projection: Following last season's resurgence, Ramirez appears to be rediscovering his middle-of-the-rotation potential. He has good strength and holds his velocity deep into games. His development of a usable third pitch is going to be key, and he must tighten his within-the-zone command of all three offerings. While it's still too soon to determine his future, there's a chance that Ramirez ultimately ends up in the bullpen, where his power fastball-curveball mix could make him a late-inning strikeout artist.
2011 Outlook: Ramirez logged more than 200 total innings at Single-A Hickory over the last two seasons, and he should open the 2011 campaign in the High-A Myrtle Beach rotation. He showed increased maturity last season not only in his between-start work, but also in terms of harnessing his mechanics and feel for pitching. As a result, Ramirez's numbers improved as the season progressed. If his command takes another step forward this year, he could see Double-A Frisco during the second half.
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