Tigers Prospect Profile #48: Ramon Lebron

Ramon Lebron had another up and down season, flashing his impressive velocity, but struggling to actually be an effective pitcher. Despite his struggles, what has Lebron sticking in the Top 50?

Ramon Lebron
Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Height: 6-1
Weight: 180
Born: 2/1/1989
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Background
Signed in September 2006, Lebron didn't make his professional debut until the 2007 DSL season, and even then his first professional experience was a brief one. As an 18-year old, Lebron started just two games for the Tigers that summer, lasting only 3 1/3 innings, and giving up six runs on three hits and five walks.

Returning to the DSL in 2008 was in Lebron's developmental interest, and he hurled 48 innings in his second summer, allowing just 40 hits, though he did walk 27 opposing hitters. His 51 strikeouts hinted at his swing-and-miss stuff and raw velocity.

With his powerful right arm in tow, Lebron came stateside and pitched in the Gulf Coast League in 2009 as a 20-year old. Starting most of his games for the Tigers (10 of 12 appearances were starts), he allowed 45 hits in 50 2/3 innings of work, while walking 37 and fanning 55. The numbers tell the story, command and control were the issue, but Lebron could still blow hitters away.

Following his US debut, Lebron pitched in the Colombian Winter League in 2009, and he was a solid contributor with Caimanes.

The Tigers tried to be somewhat aggressive with the hard-throwing righty in 2010, vaulting him to West Michigan to start the year. Over the course of the season, Lebron made 13 starts for the ‘Caps, but he gave up 50 hits and 39 walks in just 47 1/3 innings. Even his 55 whiffs in that span weren't enough to keep his team in the game most nights, as he posted a whopping 6.85 ERA.

The Tigers pulled Ramon back to the GCL to get straightened out, and he flashed a 2.28 ERA in 27 2/3 innings. Against clearly inferior competition, Lebron yielded only 16 hits and nine walks, while striking out an impressive 43 hitters.

As the season drew to a close, Lebron was pushed back up the ladder to Connecticut, where he finished four games in relief, picking up one save and striking out twenty in just over ten innings, while also walking ten.

Scouting Report
The story remains the same for Lebron, with tons of arm strength and no clue where it is going. Lebron has some complexity in his delivery, but not enough to suggest it as the root cause of his command and control problems. At times during the 2010 season, several scouts graded his command/control as a 20 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Lebron will struggle to find the strike zone at all on some nights, and even when he does throw strikes, he lacks the ability to locate within the zone.

For all of his control problems, Lebron's velocity is truly elite. His fastball can work consistently at 94-96 without much effort, and he has been as high as 98 in shorter stints.

He has a strong, though smallish frame, but the ball jumps out of his hand and gets on hitters in a hurry. He doesn't have the height some scouts would like to see on a right-hander, and his low ¾ arm angle doesn't allow him to get much angle on his fastball, leaving him somewhat hittable when he is in the zone.

Though his calling card is his fastball velocity, Lebron will try to mix in a curveball and change-up at times. His curveball actually flashes as a plus pitch, but he lacks the arm speed to maintain any deception with the pitch, and he also struggles throwing it for strikes. His change-up is well below-average.

Lebron struggles with many of the intricacies of pitching, and some scouts don't see a pitcher when he is on the mound, but a pure thrower. He studies the game and other pitchers intently on his own time, but that has yet to translate to a better understanding of the game or his craft.

There is no doubting Lebron has an ultra-high ceiling simply as a result of his raw arm strength, but there is a lot of doubt in his ability to reach that ceiling. Some scouts think the Tigers should scrap him as a starter and see if a relief role suits him any better. Even with a his electric right arm and a move to the bullpen, Lebron likely wouldn't profile as more than a setup reliever, because he lacks the command most clubs want from their closer.

Performance

Level

Team

W-L

ERA

G

GS

SV

SO

BB

IP

AVG

A

West Mich.

4-5

6.85

13

13

0

55

39

47.1/font>

.267

R

GCL Tigers

1-0

2.28

11

2

0

43

9

27.2/font>

.167

SS-A

Connecticut

1-1

8.44

7

0

1

20

10

10.2/font>

.267


Health Record
Lebron was shut down for a brief time during the Fall Instructional League with some soreness in his right shoulder. It was diagnosed as nothing more than fatigue and he was back pumping mid-90s heat by the beginning of October with no ill effect. Despite his small frame, Lebron is strong and appears to have good durability.

The Future
The 2011 season will be Lebron's age 22 season, and he will enter that campaign having yet to demonstrate he can get anyone out consistently outside of rookie ball. The rotations in West Michigan and Lakeland appear crowded at this time, and that may force the Tigers to move him to the bullpen full time, in which case he would pencil in nicely in Grand Rapids to start the year.

Lebron is the ultimate boom or bust pitching prospect. He has the ceiling to be a significant big league contributor, but his floor is that of a pitcher that could wash out of pro ball without ever succeeding in a full-season league. His arm strength merits attention both from a voyeuristic standpoint and as a prospect, but he will have to begin throwing strikes more consistently to move back up this list and begin showing up on the big league radar.

Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @TigsTownMark or Twitter.com/TigsTownMark.


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