Scouting Rangers Prospect #29: Neil Ramirez

With a fastball that has reached the mid-90s and a potentially plus curveball, right-hander Neil Ramirez has one of the best raw arms in the Texas Rangers' system. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at the 20-year-old with a feature article and an in-depth scouting report.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Neil Ramirez
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: May 25, 1989
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 185
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Acquired: 2007 Amateur Draft, 1st round

Right-hander Neil Ramirez was part of a big Rangers draft in 2007 that included five first-round picks. The Rangers picked the Virginia Beach high school product 44th overall and gave him a $1 million signing bonus.

Ramirez was regarded as one of the top high school prospects in the nation. Before he even graduated high school, in the summer of 2006, the hurler pitched in the Cal Ripken, Sr. Collegiate Baseball League. Playing with current Rangers prospect Vin DiFazio, Ramirez allowed just three earned runs in eight innings against the older competition.

Since signing, Ramirez has shown flashes of the raw talent that made him a first-round pick, but he has also been slowed by injuries.

After signing right around the mid-August deadline in '07, Ramirez reported to Arizona, but he didn't get his first official professional action until the following summer, when he pitched with short-season Spokane.

With the Indians, Ramirez was dominant. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound hurler was seemingly impossible to hit, yielding just 25 hits in 44 innings. But Ramirez's control was also erratic, as he walked 29. He finished the year with a 2.66 earned-run average and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

The Rangers looked to add to his innings total [just 44 with Spokane] at 2008 Fall Instructional League, but a broken bone in his hand kept him sidelined.

When Ramirez reported to Spring Training in 2009, he quickly suffered an ankle injury followed by a broken bone in his elbow, causing him to miss not only all of camp, but also the entire months of April and May.

The 20-year-old eventually reported to Single-A Hickory in early June, where he had an up and down season. The final numbers produced mixed results–a 4.75 ERA and 41 walks in 66.1 innings, but he also yielded just 58 hits while striking out 56.

Ramirez battled a mix of command and mechanical issues all season, but he began to straighten it out later in the year.

Through his first two months, Ramirez had more walks [26] than strikeouts [23].

In his final seven starts, though, Ramirez logged 26 innings, walking 15 and striking out 32.

Ramirez spent much of the 2009 season attempting to refine his mechanics and command, and he made some strides as the year progressed.

Though the results weren't fantastic, it's all about development for right now, and the jury is still out on Ramirez's future. He has run into a few road blocks, but it's far too early to give up on his excellent arm and power arsenal.

Also See: Sizing up the right-handed starters (December 9, 2009)
Ramirez trying to repeat delivery (October 12, 2009)
Ramirez nursing ankle injury (March 19, 2009)

Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.

Fastball: Ramirez's fastball velocity took a step back last season, but it's not particularly surprising since his arm is still getting accustomed to pitching once every five days. Although he has pitched two full seasons in professional baseball, a series of freak injuries have limited him to just over 100 total innings.

The right-hander worked anywhere between 88-93 mph with the Crawdads, generally sitting around 89-91 mph. The previous summer, at short-season Spokane, Ramirez consistently sat in the low-90s with the ability to dial it up into the 94-96 mph range. Ramirez's fastball command is below average, and he often falls behind in the count with it, but the pitch is tough to hit even at the lower velocity. His heavy four-seam fastball has helped him limit hitters to a .209 batting average in his young career.

Other Pitches: As a top high school prospect out of Virginia Beach's Kempsville High School, Ramirez was best known for his outstanding curveball. His breaking pitch took a step back in '09, although it still showed flashes of dominance at times. Ramirez's 73-76 mph curveball wasn't as sharp or tight as it had been in past years, but it was one of the Northwest League's most dominant pitches two summers ago.

The prospect spent much of last season developing his 82-84 mph changeup. Ramirez threw the change much more than he had in the past, and he often went to it in tight situations to develop confidence in the pitch. His change remains below average, as he struggles to throw it for strikes and often leaves it up in the zone when he does. The pitch is still in the early developmental stages, but it has decent fading action and he developed a better feel for it as the season progressed.

Projection: While Ramirez probably doesn't have ace potential, he has the raw ability to become a solid number two starter in the Major Leagues. Obviously Ramirez still must refine his command across the board, hold his velocity more consistently, and develop his changeup as a solid third pitch. Ramirez has a long way to go in his development, but he has plenty of potential, and that makes him an intriguing prospect. If he doesn't stick as a starting pitcher at the upper levels, Ramirez's hard fastball-curveball combination could make him a weapon out of the bullpen.

2010 Outlook: Now his third year of professional baseball, Ramirez must prove he can stay healthy and pitch a full season in 2010. Whether he will do so in Single-A Hickory or High-A Bakersfield still remains to be seen. Ramirez should be fighting for a Bakersfield rotation spot in Spring Training, but it also wouldn't be a surprise if he began the season back with the Crawdads. Regardless of where he starts, Ramirez should be in Bakersfield by the All-Star break.

ETA: 2012.

Year Team W-L IP H BB SO ERA
2008 Spokane (SSA) 1-2 44.0 25 29 52 2.66
2009 Hickory (A) 3-6 66.1 58 41 56 4.75

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