It takes something special to reach top prospect status in a topflight organization like the Texas Rangers’. Neil Ramirez has reached that status. After spending 2011 at Triple-A, Ramirez is on the cusp of the big leagues. Let’s see what he could give the Rangers.
The scouting report on Ramirez is that he throws from 92 to 94 MPH with a fastball with nice movement down and away from right-handed batters, and he has a premium second pitch as well in a 11-to-5 curveball with tight rotatoin in the mid-70′s. Ramirez has made huge strides with a mid-80′s changeup as well. Ramirez has great movement on his pitches, but he struggles quite a bit within control and command, and those are things he still needs to nail down. We have Pitch F/X data on Ramirez from Brooks Baseball from his time in the Arizona Fall League in 2011 and this year’s spring training that we’ll display using one of my original Pitch F/X graphs. Let’s see how much progress Ramirez has made.
(For a general explanation of the topic of Pitch F/X and specifically how to read this type of graph, please click here.)
Neil Ramirez gets his swings and misses. His fastball in the low-to-mid 90′s features late movement away from right-handed batters, leading to tons of swings and misses. Ramirez controls it well, but he doesn’t command it effectively, and because it doesn’t feature sharp enough sink, Ramirez allows too many flyballs and harder contact on it. But Ramirez has been able to use his fastball effectively enough that it has been able to set up his new favorite weapon, his changeup. Ramirez throws his changeup from the same arm slot and with the same action as his fastball (the green line for the changeup goes higher than the blue line for his fastball on the graph so it’s easier to see), and it features even better late run from his fastball along with good sink, making it a pitch that Ramirez has used to rack up the strikeouts. Once again, Ramirez controls it well but needs work at commanding it, and when Ramirez has missed his spots, it doesn’t have quite enough late sink to lead to a ton of groundballs, and it’s about an average groundball-flyball pitch. But its outstanding late movement makes it a true strikeout pitch, and even if he allows a few harder hits when he misses spots, its overall effectiveness more than makes up for it.
In this sample, Ramirez’s curveball, which was known for a while as his best secondary pitch, was completely off. It couldn’t force very many swings and misses, it couldn’t force groundballs, and Ramirez couldn’t control nor command it. This could have been because Ramirez’s release point was off on the pitch, which messed up his control and might have even tipped the pitch (if you look carefully at the graph, you can see that the gold line starts to the right of all the others). The tell was that when Ramirez brought his ball back to begin his delivery for his curveball, he brought the ball back behind his back, revealing part of it to the batter, compared his other pitches, when he only brought the ball up to his back but not behind it. After the pitcher releases the ball, the hitter has so little time to react that a slight difference in their delivery, but an earlier tell gives them time to gear up for the pitch that they know is coming. Hitters saw Ramirez’s curveball extremely well and were not fooled by it too often, leading to a trouble throwing strikes with it and hard contact. Ramirez has some sharp break on his curveball, but he has to get his release point right in order for it to be as effective as it has been in the past and give him a fearsome three-pitch combo.
Ramirez tried to mix in a cutter in this sample, but he may have to back to the drawing board with it because it was absolutely horrendous. He couldn’t control it at all, let alone command it, and its movement wasn’t sharp enough to force whiffs. Ramirez doesn’t have a true groundball pitch at this point and mixing in a cutter or sinker would help him, but he’s definitely not there yet.
Neil Ramirez has ton of upside, but he still comes with extreme risk involved. Ramirez has made definite strides with control on his fastball and changeup and they are definitely plus pitches at this point, but he still has to command them better. Ramirez also desperately needs to get his curveball back on track. The release point issue shouldn’t be too difficult to fix, but he has to control it better and take advantage of its dynamic movement. If Ramirez can get his control and command right, he has number two starter upside. He may not be a guy who will force a ton of groundballs, but he’ll strike out a ton of batters and he shouldn’t allow too many home runs because of the late movement on his pitches. If Ramirez can’t get his command, control, and curveball right, he will be relegated to the bullpen. Ramirez will almost assuredly make his big league debut by the end of September, but he has a lot of things he continues to work on, and his career path will be determined by the progress he makes. It’s difficult not to be impressed by Ramirez’s upside, but his risk as a prospect who spent most of 2011 at Triple-A is extremely unnerving.
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