Neil Ramirez was taken 44th overall in the 2007 amateur draft. After signing late, Ramirez didn't make his professional debut until short-season Spokane opened their season this June.
He proved to be well worth the wait.
Despite missing time with a few minor injuries, Ramirez has flashed the electric stuff that made the Rangers go over-slot to steal him away from a commitment to Georgia Tech. In 30 innings pitched so far this season, Ramirez has struck out a phenomenal 10.5 batters per nine innings while limiting them to an average of .146.
With his projectable frame and top of the rotation stuff, it wouldn't shock me to see Ramirez move quickly through the system on his inevitable journey to Arlington.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Ramirez about his big league aspirations, as well as his feelings on being compared to John Smoltz and A.J. Burnett.
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Q: Are you and Wilfredo Boscan going to continue pitching in a tandem situation?
A: I'm not sure. I'm coming off a little shoulder injury so I'm not throwing as many innings as I was before. With Murphy moving up to [Low-A] Clinton, I'm not sure if Boscan is going to move back to a regular starting spot or how they are going to work that out.
Q: Speaking of your shoulder injury, are you 100 percent healthy right now?
A: Yeah, I feel good. I had to take about three weeks off with that shoulder issue, but I rehabbed it and took some time off from throwing, so I'm 100 percent right now.
Q: How would you classify your first year in the minor leagues?
A: I'm pretty happy with it so far. I'm on a winning team right now. You can't really ask for anything more that. We have a good time with each other. I've been throwing well, giving the team a chance to win. I just want to go out there and perform each time.
Q: Are you still throwing a four-seam fastball, a curve ball and a change-up?
A: Yes. I throw those three right there.
Q: Baseball America ranked your curve ball as the best in the Rangers' system and a potential plus-plus offering; do you consider it your most promising pitch?
A: I'd like to say my fastball is my best pitch. My curve ball is one of my out pitches.
Q: How has your change-up been developing? Do you feel comfortable throwing it?
A: Yeah, that's one of the pitches that has really come along since I've been out here with pitching coach Mike Anderson. We started working on the change-up a lot more and I've gotten more confident with it. Now it's a pitch I can throw for strikes. Any type of change-up you throw, you want to make sure to keep the same arm speed as your fastball. You have to get comfortable with the grip and then just throw it the same way as you do your fastball.
Q: What part of your game needs the most work?
A: Everything, really. My fastball command still needs some work. I'm always going to need work, so I shouldn't say anything still needs work. I'm trying to get a real consistent delivery to work with, so I can get consistent velocity and consistent command.
Q: Take me through your approach on the mound.
A: Basically, when you get on the mound...I call it attack mode. You really want to go after the hitters. You want to get ahead of them with your fastball. Well, you can get ahead of them with any pitch, but you never want to give in to a hitter and let them think they can beat you. I like to go after hitters; like I said, if I can get ahead of them, I'll put them away. I really like to attack hitters. I like to make sure they aren't comfortable in the batter's box.
Q: Have you been pitching to contact, or do you go out there and try to strike hitters out?
A: You never really want to pitch to strike guys out. When you're pitching to a hitter (this is what Mike's [Anderson] been trying to teach me), you just want to get ahead in the count and then you can go into put-away mode. You don't want to be in put-away mode too early. That's when you start walking guys and trying to be too fine with your pitches. Basically, just attack hitters early and then put them away when you get ahead.
Q: You've been in a rotation this year with college pitchers Richard Bleier and Tim Murphy. Has being around those guys ever made you question your decision to turn pro after high school? Speaking specifically of the college experience that you missed out on.
A: You hear guys talking about their college experiences and stuff, but I would have gone to college to play baseball so I think that going into pro ball right away was the right decision for me. I think it would have been fun to go to college to get the experience of being on a really good college team, but I don't really regret it. My main goal is to play Major League baseball, and I thought that jumping to pro ball would be the best way to get on that path.
Q: Speaking of your teammates, what have you been able to learn from such a talented collection of players?
A: That's the thing that has been so good about being around these guys - they are all so competitive and they all want to win so bad that it rubs off on you. I'm a competitor and I want to win anyway, but just being around those guys and seeing them do good just makes me want to perform as well. It's just fun. If you're a pitcher and you have guys around you that want to win, it rubs off.
Q: In their 2008 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America mentioned that you have drawn comparisons to John Smoltz and A.J. Burnett. How does that make you feel?
A: Wow, I never heard that. Those are amazing guys, especially John Smoltz. He's a role model on and off the field, and a 200-game winner in his career. You can't really ask for more than that.
Q: Speaking of Major League pitchers, is there one that you emulated growing up or one that you emulate currently?
A: Yes. I grew up really liking the Braves and what's funny is that I really liked John Smoltz. In recent years, I like Josh Beckett. I like the way he pitches. I like how he just attacks hitters and just makes them look stupid sometimes.
Q: Are you going to be a Major League pitcher? Do you have what it takes?
A: Yes, I think I am. The Rangers are a really good organization to help that happen too. I'm looking forward to it.
Q: What is it going to take to make that a reality?
A: Just come to the field every day and prepare to get better. You hear guys talk, guys that have been in the majors, and they say that it's a process - that it takes time. You can't take a day off. Every day you have to get better, because there is always somebody else out there who is doing the same thing as you, and he's not taking a day off. That's what I tell myself. Just come to the park and work on whatever you have to work on to get to the next level.
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Nicely done, Neil.
Curious to hear your thoughts about Neil Ramirez as a prospect - where would you rank him in the Rangers' system, and what do you think his ceiling is?