Wow. I'm gone at work for a few hours, and look what I miss.
As you've likely heard by now, the Rangers have dealt center fielder Kenny Lofton to the Cleveland Indians for catching prospect Max Ramirez, who came into Cleveland's possession as part of the three-team Bob Wickman trade on July 20th, 2006.
Ramirez, a 22-year-old righty, was hitting .303/.418/.505 with 12 HR and 20 doubles in 277 AB for high Class-A Kinston in the Carolina League. Make no doubt about it - this kid can rake. Ramirez was also selected to the 2007 All-Star Futures Game a couple weeks ago, representing the World Team. The biggest knock against the 5'11", 170 pound Ramirez at this point seems his defense behind the plate, which doesn't seem to be very highly regarded.
John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com ranked Ramirez as the 11th best prospect in the Indians organization in December 2006, rating him a "B-" and commenting that "his glove is shaky."
Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein ranked Ramirez as baseball's 7th best catching prospect in his "Future Shock" column on July 18th:
Ramirez has always hit for average, and has always drawn walks wherever he went, and now he�s starting to tap into his power potential with 12 home runs in 250 at-bats, just one off his career high. The question mark remains his defense--his arm is below-average but not awful, but his receiving skills are significantly below average, to the point where many question his ability to stay at the position long term. However, as one scout who went over the list with me said, �Hey, Victor Martinez is still catching...�
Baseball America's John Manuel had this to say concerning Ramirez earlier today, which would seem to suggest his defense is slowly but surely improving:
He's patient--he just won Best Strike Zone Judgment in our 2007 Best Tools survey of the Carolina League--but will strike out. Defensively, his footwork needs to improve, but he's shown better ability to receive, throw (wiping out 29 percent of opposing basestealers) and handle a pitching staff.
Meanwhile, Chris Kline (also of Baseball America) weighed in with his own take on Ramirez during his chat session today:
Josh from Warrenton asks: How do you think the Lofton deal will impact Max Ramirez? Do you think his timetable will be accelerated? Teagarden is already at Bakersfield ,will Max head there also?
Chris Kline: I'm a big fan of Max. Total package as a hitter with emerging power. Aside from that, the defense has gotten better. I know Teagarden is catching again, but there are so many questions about how the arm strength will hold up. Ramirez isn't the greatest catcher in the world either, but you have to find a place for him. It'll be interesting to see where Texas puts him, but I think Bakersfield is too big for the both of them.
While I'm not completely counting out the possibility of GM Jon Daniels turning around and flipping Ramirez as part of a bigger deal before the deadline, it appears that Ramirez is a nice addition to the farm system's already impressive stable of catching prospects.
High-A Bakersfield catcher Taylor Teagarden, who's hitting .314/.451/.611 with 20 HR, could find himself in line for a promotion to Double-A Frisco, and there's also the high upside Cristian Santana playing in the Arizona Rookie League. Kevin Goldstein ranked Teagarden three spots above Ramirez in his catcher rankings (mentioned earlier in this article), but also noted how cautious the Rangers are being with Teagarden behind the plate after missing 2006 with Tommy John surgery.
It sounds like a bit of a stretch to assume that Max Ramirez will make the big leagues as an everyday catcher, but Ramirez also played third base in the Gulf Coast League a few years ago, and his offense could very well be strong enough to make him an option at first base down the line. Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA projections place him at a .255-.260 EqA through his age 22-25 seasons, which would make him a slightly above average major league catcher offensively, but not so much at first or third base.
With the market apparently being so limited for Kenny Lofton, this has to be considered a pretty nice haul by Jon Daniels. There's still a lot left to be researched on this trade, but for now, I'm giving this a thumbs up. One last thing to keep in mind, though: per Jamey Newberg, Ramirez is Rule 5 draft eligible this winter.
Taking Lofton's place on the 25-man roster is Nelson Cruz, who clubbed a grand slam last night for Triple-A Oklahoma, and has hit home runs in three consecutive games. He's hitting .352/.428/.698 with 15 HR in 162 AB for the Redhawks, and his monster AAA campaign figures to mean the Rangers will give him a good, hard look to see whether or not he can still be an everyday right fielder at the major league level, as I hoped before the season.
More on the ongoing Teixeira rumors in a short while. Oh, and there's a baseball game tonight as well.
Happy trails, Kenny Lofton. Thanks for four solid months in Arlington, and best of luck to you in Cleveland.