It feels like Jose Ramirez has been around the Yankees' minor league system for a long time, but he only turned 24 in January. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Ramirez has slowly ascended the minor league levels despite battling injuries throughout his young career. The Yankees have been impressed with his repertoire for quite some time, as he was reportedly preferred over Top 100 Prospect Arodys Vizcaino way back when the Yankees made their ill-fated move to re-acquire Javier Vazquez from the Braves. Fortunately for the Yankees, Vizcaino has not made much of an impact in the majors and was indeed converted to a reliever.
However, that could very well be Ramirez's destiny if he cannot turn his health around. In the past six years, he has dealt with injuries to his elbow, shoulder, and oblique, just to name a few of his ailments. He has never made more than 21 starts or appeared in more than 115 innings in any of his six minor league seasons. When Ramirez is at his best on the mound though, his fastball, changeup, and slider can cause nightmares for opposing hitters. FanGraphs writer JD Sussman saw him square off against up-and-coming Orioles starter Kevin Gausman in Double-A back in May, Ramirez fanned seven Bowie Baysox while walking only one in five scoreless innings. Ramirez clearly has talent, but will he ever be able to hone it over the course of a fully healthy season?
(AAA): 8 GS, 31 1/3 IP, 8.0 K/9, 6.0 BB/9, 1.60 WHIP, 4.88 ERA, 5.05 FIP
(AA): 9 G, 8 GS, 42 1/3 IP, 10.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.02 WHIP, 2.76 ERA, 4.26 FIP
It was a tale of two halves for Ramirez who appeared to have mastered the Eastern League, thus earning him a promotion to Triple-A Scranton by mid-June. (That was while missing a couple starts in early April due to shoulder fatigue.) His control was relatively good by his standards, and he struck out 50 in about 40 innings, just over a batter a frame. Regrettably, the International League quickly sent Ramirez crashing back down to Earth the same way the Florida State League handled Rafael de Paula upon the latter's midseason promotion.
In as many starts as he made in Trenton, Ramirez was pummeled and ended up with quite an ugly stat line. He only allowed three homers, but batters were able to do their damage simply by getting on base frequently due to his shoddy control. Before Ramirez could straighten himself out, that injury bug struck him yet again at the end of July and his season ended thanks to an oblique injury.
Ramirez is a very frustrating prospect to write about at this juncture. His pitches and repertoire look extremely good, but there's not much the Yankees can do about him if he cannot stay healthy. While we can rave on and on about his potential, he's not that young anymore and he only has nine games above Double-A to his name. Baseball Prospectus prospect evaluator Jason Parks ranked Ramirez second in the Yankees' system behind only Gary Sanchez, but ESPN's Keith Law and Baseball America's Josh Norris (former Trenton beat writer) did not even rank him among the team's top ten prospects. Ramirez is a divisive figure at a crossroads. And yet...
Strikeouts like the one above are why people still rave about Ramirez. Even while he was struggling in Scranton, he still showed flashes of his potential. Yes, he had horrid control in Scranton, but that first strike is directly to J.R. Murphy's mitt. Ramirez immediately follows with a nasty slider that just dives under the hitter's bat and after an unseen ball, he finishes him off by blowing a fastball by upstairs. Ramirez is a big dude, and his occasionally gaudy strikeout numbers demonstrate how he can overpower opposing hitters.
Unfortunately, you have to actually make it to the mound to pitch (big, if true), and Ramirez has struggled to simply do that. Like Dellin Betances in 2012, this year might be Ramirez's last shot at proving he can stick in a rotation before he becomes a reliever. We can only hope that Ramirez stays healthy and that his rocky first taste of Triple-A was the result of jitters more than anything else.