The Chicago Cubs promoted pitching prospect Neil Ramirez to the major league roster last week. He's performed well in his first two outings, pitching scoreless innings against the Brewers on April 25th and against the Reds on April 30th, fanning three with a walk and no hits allowed. Does he have the ability to take a larger role going forward? Perhaps. Let's take a look at Ramirez as today's Prospect of the Day.
Neil Ramirez was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the supplemental first round in 2007, from high school in Virginia Beach, Virginia. His track record was very erratic: he was excellent in the Northwest League in 2008 (2.66 ERA in 44 innings), usually ineffective in the South Atlantic League in 2009 (4.75 ERA in 66 innings with 41 walks), then won 10 games with a 4.43 ERA but a dramatically improved 142/37 K/BB ratio in 140 innings in the Sally League in '10.He jumped to Double-A in '11 and succeeded despite some bouts of shoulder trouble (3.63 ERA with 63/31 K/BB in 74 inning), then completely collapsed in Triple-A in 2012 (7.66 ERA in 74 innings) amidst more shoulder problems.
2013 was better: he went 9-3, 3.84 with a 127/42 K/BB in 103 innings back in Double-A, then was traded from the Rangers to the Cubs to complete the Matt Garza deal at the end of August. The Cubs switched him to the bullpen full-time this year and here he is in the majors.
Despite his erratic performance record, Ramirez is talented: he has a very live arm with a 94-96 MPH fastball. Listed at 6-4, 190, the 24-year-old had trouble in the Rangers system with his secondary pitches. His changeup usually drew good reviews, but problems with his breaking ball and general mechanical consistency held him back. He used to throw a curveball that varied between terrible and outstanding. He swapped that out for a more consistent slider a couple of years ago, which seems to have helped. At times he will show very good command, but when his mechanics break down he loses his release point and the walks come back.
So, what do the Cubs have here? I think the decision to make him a reliever was wise, given that he seems able to maintain his control more effectively in shorter stretches. He probably has a better shot at avoiding further shoulder trouble in the bullpen. Given his mixed track record, Ramirez is tough to project sabermetrically; the arm strength for success is clearly here, but he could develop into anything from a closer to a back-end bullpen mop-up guy.