Neil Ramirez isn’t Nuke LaLoosh, but you’d be forgiven for making the mistake. He’s got a million dollar arm all right, but more than a five cent head. If you’re unfamiliar with Neil’s journey through the Rangers farm system, just envision the evil architecture of the neighboring Judge Roy Scream. It’s been a ride; ups, downs, and everything in between. Originally the 44th pick overall in the 2007 draft (a pick courtesy of the departed Gary Matthews Jr), the 24 year old Virginia Beach native made hay with his 10.6K/9 in his first stint in pro ball for our beloved Spokane Indians. Of course his 5.9BB/9 showed everyone there was work to be done. Following a productive and steady 2010 in Hickory, 2011 was when the NeRa ride really began. Chosen to be Myrtle Beach’s opening day starter, Ramirez struck out 9 guys in 4.2 innings, and was promptly promoted to Frisco…after one game. Following 6 starts for Frisco, and 8BB/24K over 19ip, he was promoted again, this time to the undershelf of the big leagues, AAA. Over 18 starts for Round Rock, Neil threw 74.1 innings, walking 35 hitters while striking out 86. At this point, Neil had more helium around him than I inhaled the summer I worked at Hobby Lobby. But just like with balloons and altered voices, what goes up, must come down. And sometimes it comes down hard. Let’s just stick with the numbers for 2012, maybe that will convey the point and dull the pain enough to be palatable: 27 starts, 123.1ip, 86er, 46bb, 108K, 11hbp, 11wp, 18hr allowed, 6.28 ERA…and a mid-season demotion back to Frisco. Thud.
It was mental. There, I said it. It was mental. Neil has a great arm. He’s always had a great arm, but as I try to tell everybody, these kids are no different than any other kids on the planet; they all grow and mature at different rates. Speaking of the arm, let’s get into that, he wasn’t a first round pick because he wears matching shoes. Neil’s FB has been sitting 92-95 and has touched as high as 98 in 2013. He’ll get some run on it as well. Once ranked by Baseball America as the best curveball in the entire system, the CB has fallen behind the CH in terms of nastiness, this season at least. The CH is, IMO, his best secondary offering now. It comes out of his hand exactly like the FB, but sits 84-86 and has nice arm-side fade. He and I have talked about the emergence of his CH several times this season, he loves the pitch and will throw it to both righties and lefties and he’ll pitch backwards with it as well. The SL can also be an out pitch for him, but lately, he’s kinda been using that as a show-me type offering to set up the CH or the FB. A few times a game, he’ll still snap off a vintage Neil Ramirez CB that will make you happy, but it’ll sometimes get too loopy and hang too. Regardless, the entire gist of this paragraph is to tell you that Neil Ramirez throws a FB/CH/CB/SL and all 4 of them are good/decent pitches.
So he’s been working very hard in 2013 on the mental side of the game, and it’s starting to show. His last outing in Frisco was his best of the season. Not in terms of dominance, I’ve seen him be filthy at times this season, but in terms of growth. In 2013, Neil’s thrown 92 innings, walking 38 and striking out 113, third most in all of MiLB. Opponents are hitting .196 against him and only 6 of his pitches have left the yard. He’s dominating the Texas League, but by the end of his outing Friday night, I was grinning like a cat. After allowing 4 ER including a HR, all in the second inning, Neil buckled down and threw 4 scoreless innings, striking out 5 of the last 6 batters he faced. It was a huge step and I told him so the next day, and he seemed genuinely happy about it. The kid has been working hard and has openly discussed his efforts to eliminate negative thoughts and possible outcomes while trying to simply focus on the process. Control what you can control. Sounds easy, but isn’t. Oh, and another thing, I’ve asked him point blank and I’ve written it before, but he likes pitching out of the pen as well. He’s got a starter’s arsenal and build (6’4” 200lbs), but as the kids like to say “IJS”. I have no idea if his future is as a starter or out of the pen, or if it involves a 911 with a quadrophonic Blaupunkt, but I know his 2013 is already a helluva lot better than his 2012, and for that, the young man deserves some credit.
UPDATE: Neil was scratched from his scheduled start tonight for Frisco in Corpus. I'm not sure why and we're still awaiting the reason. Could be any number of possibilities, honestly.
UPDATE 2: Neil was scratched from his start on Thursday because of shoulder soreness. [sigh] He's not on the DL as of now, and hopefully it will subside quickly.