Neil Ramirez, RHP, Texas Rangers
One of my favorite "breakout candidate" prospects pre-season was Neil Ramirez of the Texas Rangers. Although he had a 4.43 ERA in 140 innings for Low-A Hickory last year, he also had an excellent 142/37 K/BB ratio, and scouts reported a fastball that could hit the mid-90s. He was very effective in the second half (78/17 K/BB after June 1st) and I wrote that "this is the statistical profile of a pitcher on the verge of a breakout" in my book.
The breakout is underway.
Rangers officials were effusive in their praise for Ramirez in spring training, pointing to improved mechanics and a more consistent curveball and changeup to go with his mid-90s heat. He made one start in High-A to open the season, fanning nine in 4.2 innings, then jumped up all the way to Triple-A. He's made three starts for Round Rock now, with a 17/6 K/BB in 16 innings, just eight hits, and three earned runs (1.69 ERA). Pacific Coast League observers are quite impressed, and if he continues his current pace of development, he could be ready to reinforce the major league staff this summer.
Ramirez was a supplemental first round pick in 2007 from high school in Kempsville, Virginia, but for some reason he's never received as much attention as he's deserved outside of Texas fandom. There's a good chance that will change later this year.