Ramirez 'At Home' Behind The Plate

Lone Star Dugout has a feature on Max Ramirez, the newest prospect in the Texas Rangers organization. This article appeared in the October 2006 issue of Indians Ink Magazine.

The following story appeared in the October 2006 issue of Indians Ink Magazine, shortly after catcher Maximiliano Ramirez had been acquired by Cleveland from the Atlanta Braves.

When the Indians traded closer Bob Wickman to the Atlanta Braves, the player they received in return, Max Ramirez, was described as a good, young prospect who had recently been converted from infielder to catcher.

In reality, only part of that description is 100 percent accurate.

Ramirez is indeed a 21-year-old prospect who was putting up very solid numbers at Class A Rome this season, having hit .285 with nine homers and 37 RBI in 267 at-bats prior to the July 20 trade. He was hitting over .300 through the end of May, then cooled off considerably in June before heating up again in July.

Those numbers would probably rank him somewhere between a good prospect and a blue-chip prospect.

Ramirez was selected as the starting catcher for the 2006 South Atlantic League All-Star team and had been rated the No. 20 prospect in Atlanta's system coming into this season.

But the reality of the matter is that Ramirez is not an infielder who has been converted to catcher. Rather, he is a catcher who spent one miserable season playing third base before returning to catcher last year.

Make no mistake, the 5-11, 175-pound Ramirez looks at himself as a catcher. And he'd very much like to keep it that way.

"When they changed me to third base, it was a very hard change for me," said Ramirez, who speaks English very well. "I feel very comfortable, very good when I'm catching."

Ramirez, who was signed by the Braves as a non-drafted free agent out of Venezuela in 2002, did not feel that way as a third baseman.

In 2004, while playing his first season of pro ball in the United States, Ramirez not only struggled defensively at third, but his offensive numbers were nothing to write home about.

In 57 games for the Gulf Coast League Braves, Ramirez hit .275 with eight homers and 35 RBI. He struck out 50 times and drew only 19 walks in 204 at-bats.

Ramirez returned to his natural catching position in 2005 and suddenly began showing up on the radar screen. In 239 at-bats for short-season Danville, he hit .347 with eight homers and 47 RBI. He was voted the co-MVP of the Appalachian League.

He homered in his first game in the Indians' organization, for the Lake County Captains. A few days later, he was named player of the week in the South Atlantic League. He went 3-for-3 with an RBI double in his last game in the Braves' system, then went 4-for-6 with a homer, double, three RBIs and four walks in his first three games at Lake County. For the week, he had an astronomical .842 on-base percentage, reaching safely in 16 of 19 plate appearances.

"He's young, he's far away and he still has a lot of work to do as a defender," said Indians manager Mark Shapiro at the time of the trade.

Ramirez is willing to work long and hard to make himself into a solid defensive catcher, a position he started playing as a 10-year-old in his first year of organized baseball.

"They told me I was going to catch and I said, `OK.' I didn't have any equipment so I used what the team provided," he said.

"I really like catching. I like to control the game. I like working with the pitchers. You have all of your teammates in front of you and you can see everything that is happening."

Ramirez's father, Ricardo, is a sports agent in Venezuela and conducts tryout camps when scouts come to town. He had Max attend his first camp when he was 14 years old and it didn't take long for scouts to take note of his potential.

"I've always loved playing baseball," he said. "I've played since I was 4 years old. My uncle, Pedro, played baseball in Venezuela and he was very good."

Obviously some of that talent has rubbed off on his nephew.

"Max is a guy who's got the tools and bat to be a good prospect," Shapiro said. "He's a guy we're excited to have."

And Ramirez is equally excited to be with the Indians.

"I'm very happy to be here," he said. "I feel very good."

Asked about being traded for an established All-Star closer, Ramirez said, "To be the minor league player who is traded for a big league closer makes you feel very good. I just want to keep working hard and do my job with this organization."

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