With the recent blockbuster Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero trade between the Mariners and Yankees, the Seattle rotation for 2012 is pretty much set. The Mariners will roll out Felix Hernandez as their ace, followed by established solid lefthander Jason Vargas and a trio of players with half a year of big league experience: Charlie Furbush, Blake Beavan, and newly acquired Hector Noesi.
Furbush, Beavan, and Noesi will need to establish themselves quickly, as touted pitching prospects James Paxton and Danny Hultzen will open 2012 in the upper minors and could reach Seattle quickly if they perform well. But those two aren’t the only intriguing upper-minors arms in the system. Erasmo Ramirez could also become a valuable part of the Seattle pitching staff.
Not to be confused with the former Rangers reliever of the same name, this Erasmo Ramirez is a pitcher with exceptional control of a three-pitch arsenal. His best pitch is a very good changeup that misses bats, and his fastball and curveball are both average.
A short, stocky Nicaraguan righthander, Ramirez has put himself on the doorstep of the big leagues before his 22nd birthday. In 2011, he put up an 81/19 K/BB in 110 1/3 innings in Double-A, also posting a solid 51.2% groundball rate. He then posted a 35/13 K/BB in Triple-A in 42 1/3 frames. In the offseason, he threw 30 1/3 innings in the Venezuelan Winter League and walked exactly one batter.
Working at 88-92 mph with his fastball, getting some grounders, walking less than two batters per nine innings, having enough offspeed stuff to punch out the occasional batter…sounds something like a once-unheralded former Mariner, Doug Fister, doesn’t it?
That’s not to say Ramirez is going to become anywhere near as effective of a major league pitcher as Fister. For one, he’s nearly a foot shorter and can’t get the same sort of plane and deception. Then again, Fister didn’t even make his pro debut until he was older than Ramirez is now, and he didn’t reach Triple-A until he was 25, a full four years older than Ramirez was when he first hit the level.
It’s tough to see where exactly Ramirez fits in Seattle’s plans, given that they already have five relatively young starters in the big leagues and a trio of top pitching prospects (Hultzen, Paxton, and Taijuan Walker) approaching quickly. Sleeper arm Brandon Maurer also holds considerable intrigue and could be a force to be reckoned with in the Mariners system. Still, if Ramirez continues to succeed, one would have to think that he’ll be able to land a starting gig somewhere at some point in the next couple of years. With just the one plus pitch, he may not be a star, but as Fister shows, guys who don’t walk anyone and don’t allow a ton of home runs can be very valuable even with average or worse strikeout ability.
For more on the Mariners, check out SoDo Mojo!