Hard work paying off for Ramirez

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Over the last two years, right-hander Neil Ramirez has added strength and improved his mechanics. The across-the-board improvement makes him a prime breakout candidate this season. Lone Star Dugout interviewed the 21-year-old hurler.

The top portion of this story was taken from this March 1 notes piece, when Ramirez appeared in a big league game against Seattle. The lower half is an interview with the prospect from Thursday afternoon.

One day after shortstop Jurickson Profar turned in an impressive performance as a JIC (just-in-case player) in a big league game, right-hander Neil Ramirez shined on the high stage.

Ramirez was recently profiled in this scouting report after being named our number 16 prospect in the Rangers' system. And if Tuesday's performance is any indication, Ramirez may prove to be worthy of a higher ranking.

As the prospect improved his mechanics last season, he began throwing harder (sitting 92-93, touching mid-90s), his fastball command improved, and he began showing a better feel for his changeup. Though he was hit around at times, it was a strong across-the-board improvement.

Ramirez entered Tuesday's contest against Seattle in the eighth inning. Facing veteran outfielder Ryan Langerhans, he pumped three consecutive fastballs at 95, 97, and 98 mph to record a quick strikeout.

Overall, the hurler allowed a run (a solo homer) on two hits, walking zero and striking out two. He threw his fastball between 95-98 mph and featured three 81-83 mph curveballs and a pair of 89 mph changeups.

It's important to note that Ramirez won't sit at 95-98 as a starting pitcher, but that he can reach the plus-plus velocity on occasion is impressive. He has a strong frame and gets a good downward angle on his fastball when he keeps it low. While Ramirez had little trouble throwing strikes (13 strikes, four balls), he still needs to tighten up his within-the-zone command. He surrendered a homer on a 95 mph fastball that caught too much of the plate, and he left a curveball up that went for a single.

The curveball Ramirez flashed was an above-average hammer pitch with a hint of two-plane break. Two of the three were excellent, resulting in a called strike and a weak groundout. Both changeups were a bit firm but had some deception, with one getting a foul-tip swinging strike. Though there's still work to be done, his change looks like it could be an average offering.

Because Ramirez has cleaned up his delivery and flashes the potential for a three-pitch repertoire, he has a chance to stick as a starting pitcher and will be developed as such. If he ultimately becomes a reliever, the heat and plus breaking ball give him late-inning potential.

There's still a lot of camp remaining, and it'll be interesting to track Ramirez's progress through the spring.

Jason Cole: Tell me about your offseason and what you did to prepare for the 2011 campaign.

Neil Ramirez: I was out here again this offseason, working with the strength coach, Napoleon Pichardo. It was me and a couple other guys. We were basically doing core work and really trying to get stronger––put on some more weight for the season. We wanted to get ready for another full-season workload. I know that last year was my first full season, so I just want to be able to repeat that and be able to make every start again this year.

Cole: Last season, you saw some across-the-board improvements in terms of command, control, velocity, and so forth. How did the mechanical work you did play into all of that?

Ramirez: Just working with Brad Holman––really simplifying the delivery and not trying to do too much. It was just about getting athletic with it so I was able to repeat it easier and more often. I know the first couple years, my arm slot was up and down and I just wasn't consistent. Basically last year, we worked on keeping it simple, keeping it athletic, and then really working to stay behind on the pitches so I could use my whole body when I throw––not just all arms.

Cole: What were your thoughts on your big league outing against Seattle? Was that the first time you've gotten into a big league spring training game?

Ramirez: Yeah, that was the first time they'd called me over. I was pretty excited. I was a little nervous and a little amped up there, but it was definitely an awesome experience to get over and get on that side.

Cole: You threw all your fastballs between 95 and 98 mph. Any idea where the extra velocity was coming from?

Ramirez: No, not really. I didn't even pay attention to velocity. I was just trying to throw strikes and be down in the zone. I knew these hitters––it was the first time they've seen live pitching too, so I wasn't trying to do too much. I just wanted to work with the fastball and work it over the plate.

Cole: Sandwiched within the impressive inning was a home run. Can you talk about your mindset after you gave up the homer?

Ramirez: I wasn't too upset about it. Obviously you don't ever want to give up a home run in that situation, but it's one of those things where I've learned from being at a full season last year that those things happen. Once it does happen, you can't get that pitch back so it's just kind of on to the next one. I really wanted to make sure, with that next guy, that I stayed on my plan and went after him with the fastball.

Cole: You threw a couple changeups out there. How has that pitch come along for you? It seems like the more you pitch, the more feel you've got for it.

Ramirez: Yeah, it has become more comfortable. I think there might be some little tweaks I can make on some type of grip or something. I think, at times, it gets a little too firm. I'm trying to resemble the fastball with that pitch but just take away from it, so guys don't see too much too early and just lay off it. That's just another thing that I really need to work on as far as getting more consistent with that and maybe trying to take something off it a little bit.

Cole: What are some of the things that you really want to work on in spring training before camp breaks?

Ramirez: Definitely keep working on the changeup. I think that's going to be huge for me to stay in a starting role. To be able to throw that pitch to both lefties and righties, especially as a behind-in-the-count thing––not having to give in with your fastball all the time.

And I really just want to rehash everything that I've been working on. I want to keep with that same routine. I've been struggling these first couple times on the mound with that outside fastball. I'm kind of trying to guide in there instead of throwing it through the catcher. That's another thing that I need to work on––a good finish with all pitches.

Cole: Have you thought about what you'd like to accomplish on a personal level this season? Have you set any goals in terms of where you'd like to end up?

Ramirez: My goal is to be in Double-A at some point in the season, whether it be straight out of camp––which could be a long shot––or during the middle of the season. But really, wherever I go, I just want to compete and go out there every five days and give my team a good chance to win. So really, that's the goal.

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