Heard of him? Probably not. Well don’t get too down on yourself, 95% of Ranger fans have not heard of this 21-year old right-hander.
First a history lesson on how he came to the Texas Rangers organization. I have written before about how amazing the 2007 off-the-field additions were for the Texas Rangers before. My colleague also covered it a few months ago about how great of a job Jon Daniels did to get the winning team we see today.
In case you have forgotten that was the June First-Year Player Draft in which Texas had five of the top 54 picks. Later that summer at the Trade Deadline Daniels’ traded away first baseman Mark Teixiera to Atlanta and closer Eric Gagne to Boston and in return Texas received a handful of near Major League ready prospects. Recognize any of these names: Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Beau Jones, David Murphy, Engel Beltre, and Kason Gabbard. Then at the end of the year and during the off-season he traded for the services of Josh Hamilton. Quick, imagine the Texas Rangers without any of these guys.
But I want to concentrate on the draft that season. Quick refresher of those five picks in the top 54 selections: #17 Blake Beavan, #24 Michael Main, #35 Julio Borbon, #44 Neil Ramirez, and #54 Raymond “Tommy” Hunter. Beavan was used in a trade that brought Cliff Lee here last season and Main was used in the trade that brought Bengie Molina. Borbon is the starting centerfielder, and Hunter has been a starter the past two seasons. So one name was missing, a recently turned 18-year old right-hander pitcher out of Kempsville HS in Virginia Beach, Virginia…Neil Ramirez. Side note, in that draft Texas also selected Mitch Moreland in the 17th round, plus selected but unable to sign: 11th round Anthony Ranaudo and 12th round Drew Pomeranz.
When Ramirez was taken he was not expected to blossom nor move up as quickly as the other four top picks. He was a high school hurler that had a projectable body, excellent command, with solid secondary stuff. An analysis that is seen many times each and every draft and these high school pitchers throughout the history of the game have been incredibly hit-or-miss.
Ramirez had a very solid Spring Training and was assigned to High-A ball Myrtle Beach as a member of the Pelicans rotation. It was a promotion for the young man as he had never pitched higher than Low-A ball and in his first start for the Pelicans, Ramirez went 4.2 innings of one-hit, shutout baseball. He walked only one batter and struck out nine of the 14 outs he recorded. Pretty solid outing, but is it enough to garner an entire article on a blog about the Texas Rangers? Nope…but how about this.
Wednesday night Ramirez got an emergency call-up for ailing Express starter Eric Hurley. Yeah, you heard that right, the 21-year old who a week ago had never pitched above High-A ball was starting for the Triple-A Round Rock Express. When mentioned he was starting it was a minor note that an impressive young arm in the Rangers system was making this emergency start against the Omaha Storm Chasers. That is an Omaha team in the Royals system, meaning this kid would be facing two of the arguable top ten baseball prospects in third baseman Mike Moustakas (drafted same year as Ramirez) and first baseman Eric Hosmer.
But instead of being too hyped-up about the two level promotion or awe-struck at the talent he was facing, Ramirez dealt and when I say dealt, I mean he was Las Vegas casino dealing!
In six innings of work, that took only 75 pitches, Ramirez shut the Storm Chasers out. 0 runs, 3 hits (all singles), 0 walks, 5 strikeouts, and 2 double plays to erase two of the three base runners he allowed. He retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced.
Ramirez’s excellent command of his fastball was on full display for the fans lucky enough to witness it, as he stayed in the 91-96 mph range. He also featured a change up that ranged between 84-87 mph and a “Power” curveball around 81 mph (plus-or-minus a notch or two). The story on Ramirez has always been his command of his heater, but with the addition of a “Power” curve that was described as an out-pitch, plus the serviceable change piece, Ramirez could find himself on a fast track in the farm system.
Now does this mean he is a Ranger in 2011? No, not at all. There were some downsides to his outing as he left a handful of fastballs up high and his delivery needs some refining. Will he remain at Triple-A Round Rock? Again, no I don’t believe so. Ramirez is likely to return to Myrtle Beach for the time being as he continues to work on his delivery and pitches. One expert predicted that the development of a cutter would match very well in his repertoire. But if he continues to develop well in the next month or two, Ramirez could find himself starting games in Double-A Frisco very soon.
This wasn’t meant to stir up some buzz of him joining the Rangers staff any time soon, Rangers Insider Jamey Newberg projects his arrival sometime in 2012. But even if it’s 2013, he will only be 23-years old. No, the point of this piece was one to bring to light a performance Wednesday night that caught the attention of scouts and reporters not only at the game, but beat writers at the Major League level as, Newberg, Evan Grant, and Richard Durrett all weighed in on his performance. And two to add more fuel to the fire that the Rangers pitching staff is becoming youth-led.
Right now the Rangers are thriving at 9-3 behind young starters Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando. Rangers closer Neftali Feliz is the reigning AL Rookie of the Year. Top pitching prospects at Triple-A Round Rock, aside from Ramirez, Tanner Scheppers and Michael Kirkman continue to work and both will likely see time in the Majors this season. The Rangers top prospect, left-hander Martin Perez is at Double-A in his continued efforts to work through the farm systems. And now the next crop of youthful pitching prospects are beginning to shine: Ramirez, Robbie Erlin (High-A), and David Perez (Dominican Summer).
Will all these pitching prospects be stars, or just sufficient Major League pitchers? No, of course not. But I just named 10 pitchers who baseball experts and scouts around the country have all stated each and every one of them has the talent to be starters in the Majors. A Major League rotation needs only five, therefore if only half of these ten pitching prospects become solid starters in the Majors, then still the Rangers would have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. Not only that, but the eldest pitcher at that time would likely be a 28-year old Ogando.
Will Ramirez have some more growing pains? You bet. But I tell you this, though I won’t always write about or Let’s Talk Rangers won’t always tweet about performances, get used to this type of reports. The Rangers farm system is seeded full of young pitching talent, and these seeds are beginning to blossom.