After struggling with injury, Blue Jays’ outfield prospect, Harold Ramirez, appears healthy and back on track
The developmental path of a minor league baseball player is seldom linear. Many players will and should face struggles from time to time so they can learn from their mistakes, so they can make adjustments, so they can learn how to deal with adversity.
Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates, along with Reese McGuire and Francisco Liriano, for Drew Hutchison in 2016, Harold Ramirez was ranked in the Pirates top-10 prospect list. The stocky outfielder once projected to possess a bat with high-upside. A bat with the ability to spray balls to all parts of the ballpark and make consistent contact. At the time, the 21-yr-old demonstrated a knack for stealing bases, not striking out a lot while posting an excellent OBP.
Unfortunately, a number of leg (knee and hamstring) injuries slowed his development over the years, so much so that Ramirez seemed destined to fill the role of organizational filler. So much so that the Blue Jays DFA’ed the once highly thought of outfielder. In 2017, Ramirez batted between .250 and .262 in three of the season’s four full months, batting .311 in July. While the numbers scream average, Ramirez’ ability to stay off the DL allowed him to play the most games of his career (121).
Maybe a full season of health was all the native of Colombia needed to regain his form. After batting .242 in April, Harold Ramirez has hit at a torrid pace, batting over .300 in the following months. Actually, Ramirez kicked things off on April 30th, going 2-for-4 with a run scored, a double and a run batted in to begin a 6-game hit streak which pushed his batting average from .224 up to .300. Over the next two months, the 5-foot-10 outfielder batted .310 and .308 and found himself batting higher in the lineup.
Speed was once considered to be an asset, maybe even a plus tool for Ramirez to utilize in his quest to become a major league outfielder. However, the above-mentioned leg injuries have made that part of his game a thing of the past. Over the past two seasons, the Fisher Cats outfielder owns a 3.55 spd according to Fangraphs. He can still steal a base from time to time, as he is 6 for 8 in that department in 2018.
In 2018, Harold Ramirez hasn’t improved his BB% and his K% has actually increased. Ramirez possesses excellent bat to ball skills which allow him to make lots of contact but makes him reach for balls out the strike zone. He owns a 6.3 BB%, down .2% from last year. His K% increased from 13.3 up to 17.2 which can be attributed to a high K total in May which saw Ramirez strike out 20 times in 24 games.
What has changed to take Ramirez from a .266 hitter in 2017 to a .308 hitter with a .800 OPS in 2018?
Ramirez LD% has actually decreased from 18.4 in 2017 down to 17.7 but his GB% decreased and his FB% increased. Maybe more importantly, his infield flyball percent dropped from 21.9% to 12.8%. A drop of nearly 10% in IFFB resulted in an increase of nearly 10% in Ramirez’ FB% which allowed his GB/FB to move from a grotesque 2.20 down to a more manageable 1.32.
You see, infield flyballs are typically wasted outs, whereas, an increased numbers balls hit in the air to the outfield have a higher probability to fall in for hits or even home runs. This increase in FB% and a decrease in IFFB% has allowed Ramirez to push his ISO to .132 from .092 in 2017.
Overall, Ramirez is playing better baseball in 2018 posting a wOBA of .357 and a wRC+ of 122. He has a chance to shatter many of his previous career milestones if he can maintain this current pace. He has already tied his career high with 6 HR and is a double shy of matching his career high of 19 doubles.
Toronto’s minor league outfield depth is a strength of the system and possibly a strength of the major league club for years to come. Kevin Pillar and Randal Grichuk have two more arbitration years. Teoscar Hernandez has two more years of team control with three arbitration years to follow. On top of this, Dwight Smith Jr.and Anthony Alford also have two year of team control and three arb years and if Dalton Pompey can somehow find a way to stay healthy, he too won’t see free agency until 2022.
Jonathan Davis, a late bloomer, was recently promoted to Triple-A, surpassing Ramirez on the depth. This puts Ramirez behind six potential outfielders for a job in the major leagues.
Despite having a number of outfielders ahead of him on the depth chart, at 23-yr-olds there is still time for Ramirez to re-establish his prospect status. If Ramirez can continue to remain healthy and maintain an increased FB% than it’s possible he can develop into a solid bat first outfielder or bench bat.
*Featured Image Credit: DaveMe Images
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