Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Lebron signed with the Tigers as an extremely raw 17-year old in September 2006, out of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. After signing so late, Lebron did not make his official professional debut until 2007 with the DSL Tigers. Lebron appeared in only two games for the Tigers, getting touched up for a 10.80 ERA in just 3 1/3 innings.
The following season saw Lebron start to demonstrate his outstanding raw ability, as he logged 48 innings in the DSL, allowing just 40 hits and striking out 51. The one problem in his line was the walks, as he issued 27 free passes to DSL hitters.
Lebron came stateside for the 2009 season where he took yet another step forward in his development. In 50 2/3 innings, spanning 12 appearances (ten starts), Lebron yielded only 45 hits and whiffed 55 hitters. Again, control proved to be a bit of a problem, as he walked 37, hit eight batters, and tossed five wild pitches.
Lebron received an invitation to pitch in the Colombian Winter League following the GCL season, and he continued to show progress throughout the fall. Ramon slotted into the Caimanes rotation, appearing in 11 games and finishing with a 2-4 record. In 39 innings, Lebron posted a 4.15 ERA, allowed only 31 hits, and struck out 36, though he did walk 25 hitters.
The ceiling is nearly out of this world for Lebron, but then again, the floor is also pretty low. Lebron has a huge fastball, that seems to add a tick every season. Throughout the 2009 GCL season, his heater sat in the 94-96 range, and touched higher with regularity. His fastball has explosive late life that is difficult for hitters to square up and drive.
Lebron's command has never been good, and while he has made some strides in that regard, he is still below average. At times, Lebron battles his mechanics and loses his consistency, struggling to throw strikes along the way.
Some scouts believe there may be more gas in the tank with Ramon, if he can gain consistency with his delivery. He has gone from a rail thin teenager to a sturdier build that includes a chiseled upper physique. His arm is resilient, and he bounces back quickly.
Lebron also uses a curveball and change-up. His curve flashes as an above-average to plus pitch with good downward movement, but he has a tendency to give the pitch away with a slower arm speed. He faces a similar problem with his change-up, and there are significant questions if his change-up will ever be a quality third offering.
Aside from his fastball, the one thing that really stands out with Lebron is the join with which he approaches the game. He has fun on the field, wants to learn, and wants to improve. It is not uncommon for him to intently watch and dissect other games on TV when he is not playing and practicing.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG R
As mentioned, Lebron's arm has been resilient to date, but he also hasn't been taxed with a heavy workload at any point in his career. He remained strong during the fall season, and reports out of Colombia failed to indicate a dip in velocity. Given his outstanding work ethic and detail-oriented approach to training, he may be a better bet to remain healthy long term than most pitchers.
Lebron's raw stuff can compare to just about anyone in the Tigers minor league system, and if he shows some improvement during spring training, a full-season test may be in order. If the Tigers opt to assign him to a club on opening day, he will likely head to West Michigan.
This is an aggressive ranking for a player that largely burst on the scene this year, particularly given the holes still remaining in his game, but the pure ceiling is simply too much to ignore. A marginal improvement in his command could send him rocketing through the minor leagues. Though Lebron will continue to get opportunities to start, most observers salivate at the thought of his power arm and serious approach at the back end of a bullpen.
You have to watch a pitcher with this type of stuff closely, but he shouldn't be expected to have a smooth ride to the big leagues. The remaining developmental steps for Lebron are some of the most difficult a pitcher can be asked to make, and whether he can make strides or not, will determine if he can approach his considerable raw talent.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.