Minor League Players of the Month: April

Lone Star Dugout announces High-A Myrtle Beach outfielder Ryan Strausborger and Triple-A Round Rock pitcher Neil Ramirez as its minor league players of the month for April 2011.

Player of the Month: Ryan Strausborger, OF, Myrtle Beach

While there were a handful of outstanding offensive performances in the Texas Rangers organization––including the power displays given by Frisco's Mike Bianucci and Tom Mendonca––Myrtle Beach outfielder Ryan Strausborger may have turned in the most impressive all-around performance.

Strausborger, drafted after a four-year career at Indiana State University, was the Rangers' 16th-round pick in last summer's MLB Draft. He gained a reputation as a streaky hitter in 2010, batting just .241/.302/.299 in July before busting out to the tune of .330/.405/.505 in August.

College seniors like Strausborger, who turned 23 years old in March, often need to produce early and move quickly to gain prospect status. And so far, he is doing just that. In 22 April contests, the 6-foot-0, 180-pound outfielder went 32-for-95 (.337) with eight doubles, two triples, three homers, and 17 runs batted in.

Working primarily as the Pelicans' leadoff hitter, Strausborger carried the club's offense in the last eight April games, batting .412/.487/.824 over 39 plate appearances.

He also helped win a game with his defense in left field, gunning down the potential tying run at home plate with two outs in the eighth inning on April 30. He was 4-for-5 with three doubles and a HBP in that contest.

Strausborger offers some intriguing tools in his above-average speed and a good glove at the left and center field spots. Playing in an organization that isn't exactly swimming with upper-level position-player prospects, Strausborger has a chance to solidify himself as a name to watch this season. He'll have to prove he can produce consistently with the bat, but he's off to an excellent start.

April Myrtle Beach (A+) .337 95 8 3 17 20 6/9 6 15 .385 .558

Honorable Mention: Endy Chavez (Round Rock), Mike Bianucci (Frisco), Tom Mendonca (Frisco), Jonathan Greene (Frisco), Mike Olt (Myrtle Beach), Jhonny Gomez (Hickory), Christian Villanueva (Hickory)

Pitcher of the Month: Neil Ramirez, RHP, Myrtle Beach/Round Rock

Neil Ramirez entered the 2011 campaign without any experience above the Low-A level. Following an impressive spring training performance––where he pounded the strike zone, threw his fastball up to 98 mph in short bursts, and flashed a much-improved changeup––the 21-year-old fanned nine batters over 4.2 scoreless innings during his High-A debut.

When Round Rock starting pitcher Eric Hurley came down with an illness and was forced to miss his second start of the season, the Rangers called on Ramirez to make what was supposed to be a one-day Triple-A spot-start.

Even after the game, Express Manager Bobby Jones expected the hurler was heading to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport early in the morning.

"He's leaving tomorrow," Jones said immediately after the start. "If we need somebody else down the road, I'm sure he'll be back. But that was the plan––get him here, pitch tonight, and then send him back."

Fortunately for Ramirez, the Rangers' need for pitching at the major league-level left the Express without a full pitching staff. So when he shut down a talented Omaha lineup to the tune of six scoreless innings in his debut, he got the opportunity to stick around.

Fast forward through the end of April, and Ramirez remains in Triple-A––perhaps for good. The 6-foot-3 prospect hasn't only been effective, but he has also been by far Round Rock's most effective starting pitcher. In 21.1 innings with the club, he has yielded four earned runs on 11 hits, walking eight and striking out 25.

After the initial Triple-A start––in which Ramirez yielded three hits in six innings, striking out five without walking a batter––Jones came away impressed with the pitcher's composure.

"He was outstanding," Jones said. "It was the first time I've ever seen him pitch. They said he came up from Myrtle Beach, and you figure some young kid will come up and be nervous. You don't really expect that. He was unreal. He went out there just like he's been in Triple-A his whole life. It was a great effort."

The mental makeup, which has become a definite plus asset for Ramirez over the last two seasons, is surely among the primary reasons the Rangers have allowed the prospect to stick in Triple-A. He has become a workout warrior, getting himself into excellent shape. As a result, Ramirez has improved his mechanics, stuff, and overall command.

Ramirez throws his fastball anywhere between 90-96 mph during starts. His hard curveball is a swing-and-miss offering. Perhaps his biggest development of late has been the improvement of his 84-87 mph changeup, which offers some deception and life. Ramirez struggled to find much of a feel for the change in past years, but he is beginning to harness the pitch.

The former first-round pick has broken out as one of the Rangers' top pitching prospects, and he may suddenly be knocking on the door to the big leagues despite his overall lack of upper-level experience. There's always the chance that Ramirez goes down to Double-A at some point this season. But with the results he is posting with the Express, it seems more and more unlikely with each outing.

A full report and interview from Ramirez's first Triple-A start can be found at this link.

Month Team W-L IP H BB SO ERA
April MB (A+)/RR (AAA) 2-1 26.0 12 9 34 1.38

Honorable Mention: Martin Perez (Frisco), Joe Wieland (Myrtle Beach), Zach Osborne (Hickory/Myrtle Beach), Roman Mendez (Hickory)

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