There were a few interesting things about last night's game against the Hong-Chih Kuo continued to be bad. George Sherrill continued to be bad. Aaron Heilman seems like he's dropping his arm down more than ever before. Vinnie Catricala made a diving stop and throw. And Erasmo Ramirez pitched four innings.. Typing "there were a few" seems to convey something entirely different from "there were few" for some reason, so actually I'll go with "there were few". There were few interesting things about last night's game against the Giants.
Erasmo Ramirez was the thing I was most looking forward to seeing. He's not exactly someone you look forward to the way you'd look forward to a Tim Lincecum or a Cliff Lee, but there's no denying that Ramirez is an interesting fellow. Yesterday I finally saw him, and this provides an opportunity to talk about a guy we haven't talked about that much.
You all probably know the Erasmo Ramirez basics. He's more little than big. Strike-thrower. Not overpowering. Fast riser. Young. Not thought of as a top prospect. As a matter of fact, Baseball America left him off the list of the' top ten prospects entirely. If you want to cram it all into one terrible sentence, Ramirez doesn't need high ceilings, and he doesn't have a high ceiling.
Yet here he is, with a shot to make the Mariners and pitch as a starter or reliever before he turns 22. Ramirez is the pitching prospect who's survived. Danny Hultzen and James Paxton pitched in minor league camp on Friday. Taijuan Walker is with them. Ramirez is still sharing a clubhouse with Felix Hernandez and Charlie Furbush. One gets the sense that he really is getting serious consideration.
It's easy to see why. Ramirez has a broad repertoire, and he throws strikes, so many strikes. Nothing endears a pitcher to a coaching staff more than the ability to throw consistent strikes. That's Ramirez's calling card. His big issue that I was reading about the other day is that he has to learn how to throw balls. He throws balls sometimes, but he seldom throws them on purpose. It helps to be able to throw balls on purpose that aren't very hittable balls.
Thursday night, Ramirez was up to his usual stuff. Of his 50 pitches, 34 were strikes, or 68 percent. He generated more grounders than fly balls and he threw all of his pitches. What I found remarkable was that he averaged 93mph with his fastball, while Barry Zito averaged 83, which is right on. Ramirez does have more velocity than you'd expect from a pitcher with his build.
The at bat I remember the most came in the top of the first inning. With a man on, Ramirez faced Freddy Sanchez and blew him away with three straight fastballs and three straight swinging strikes. Sanchez is a good contact hitter so that isn't an easy thing to do. You certainly wouldn't look for that from Erasmo Ramirez. For whatever it's worth, though, it looked like Ramirez missed his spot on each pitch, further away from Sanchez. He missed the target, but with a runner on second base, maybe the target was deliberately misleading and Ramirez actually put the pitches where he wanted them.
Now, the thing about Ramirez's heat is that not all 93-94mph fastballs are created alike. As a pitcher who's presumably shorter than his listed height, he's not releasing the ball as close to home plate as somebody taller. And there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of deception in Ramirez's delivery. He's just a right-handed pitcher. Nothing about his mechanics is particularly weird or particularly funky. Ramirez is not exactly a power pitcher, and it's highly unlikely that he's ever going to pick up mad strikeouts.
Still, the stuff is fine, and with Ramirez's location, there's a valuable pitcher in there. A valuable pitcher who could probably be valuable in the Major Leagues right now. It's not obvious where Ramirez could stand to improve, because he's very polished.
Ramirez got up to triple-A last year and started seven games. If you set a low enough minimum, Ramirez posted the PCL's third-best strike rate, behind Jerome Williams and Blake Beavan. Beavan is familiar and Beavan is limited, but the difference between Ramirez and Beavan's numbers last year is that Ramirez's contact rate was about seven percentage points lower. Even with Tacoma, Beavan was an easier pitcher to foul off or put in play. Ramirez missed bats. If you want to get really excited, Ramirez's contact rate was comparable to Martin Perez's contact rate. If you want to get less excited, Ramirez's contact rate was comparable to Brett Cecil's contact rate.
There's a temptation to look at Erasmo Ramirez, observe that he's only 21, and think "the sky is the limit!" It doesn't work like that. Pitchers aren't hitters, and Ramirez seems just about maxed out. You never know when one of these guys might become Greg Maddux, but Erasmo Ramirez probably won't become Greg Maddux. With that said, Ramirez is 21, and in 2009 he was pitching for the Mariners in the Venezuelan Summer League. He's moved quick, and he's ready. Even if he gets cut and shipped to the minors, I have to think he's a Major League-caliber pitcher.
Now, and down the road. Something I noticed all offseason long was that, in mailbags and articles, Greg Johns would slip in lines about how Ramirez doesn't get the press that the other pitching prospects do, but might be the most Major League-ready. Johns conveyed the impression that Ramirez was going to get a long look in Arizona. He's getting a long look, and he might make the team. There are a number of questions in the rotation. There are a number of questions in the bullpen. There aren't a whole lot of questions about Erasmo Ramirez, who's pretty well understood for a guy who emerged with such speed.
There's a reason why people rank Ramirez below Hultzen, Paxton, and Walker. It's a good reason. Hultzen, Paxton, and Walker have the ability to be better starting pitchers. But guys like Ramirez have value, and they can have a lot of value if things go well. Ramirez is probably going to see the Major Leagues, and he's probably going to see the Major Leagues before he's too much older. Once he sees them, he's probably going to be fine. Erasmo Ramirez is coming, and you don't want to be late to his satisfactory and unexceptional parade.