15) Carlos Ramirez, 3/19/88 - C, Advanced Rookie Ball
Ranking in a Nutshell: Rule number one when evaluating prospects: never fall for college draftees who mash in rookie ball. The list of guys who bust at the upper levels after dominating the Pioneer League is extensive. I know this. I've written about it. Yet I still feel that Ramirez will make it to the MLB as an impact player who contributes on all sides of the game, except the base paths. Before Ramirez assumed catching duties for Orem, the team had a 20 and 18 record; from that point on, they went 31 and 7. Granted, my enthusiasm is enough for me to mistake correlation for causation here, so take it from Owlz manager Tom Kotchman, who himself explicitly credited Ramirez as the difference maker in Orem's championship run (interview with Stephen Smith, 2009).
Track Record: Ramirez led the Sun Devils with 19 HR's while catching every one of their 65 games in 2009. His .338/.459/.654 ASU slash line compares favorably to those of alums Dustin Pedroia and Andre Ethier at the same age (thank you Sean Smith). And Ramirez' pro debut was nothing short of spectacular - his 5.3 wins above replacement ranks sixth best in the Angels' minor league system going back to 2005. With just 15 more PA's he would have won the Pioneer League batting title too, but instead he settled for leading the league in OBP because even had gone 0 for the next 15, he still would have come out on top. Needless to say, Ramirez has outstanding patience: he walked in 18% of his PA's at Orem after having walked in 16% of his PA's at ASU last spring. While his 10 HR's didn't challenge for the Pioneer League lead, they were sufficient to affirm his power potential.
Win-the-Lottery-Ceiling: A big league regular who receives occasional all-star consideration. His overall package resembles a cross between Bengie Molina and Mike Napoli, with a tad less defense than the former, and less raw power than the latter.
Scouting Report: (beneath the jump)
Ramirez begins his swing holding the bat low, beneath the shoulders, helping him to arrive at the point of contact with an uppercut in his swing plane, but without the loop that creates excessive length or holes (Brandon Wood adapted similar mechanics last year, helping him to cut down on his K's). He does a great job of generating power with his lower half, keeping his center of gravity low and maintaining excellent balance in his swing. He plants his front foot firmly, then makes a strong, smooth pivot off of his back leg to create plenty of torque and facilitate an exaggerated follow-through that brings his shoulders a full 180 degrees from his starting point (click here to see what I mean). Technically, it's one of the most impressive swings I've seen since starting this series. His batted ball distribution is similar to Mike Napoli's in that he hits tons of flyballs, though he also posted an impressive 22.1% line drive rate. That should mean consistent power as he advances through the system.
Ramirez' excellent plate discipline doesn't just show up in the OBP: he regularly works himself into hitters' counts - or out of pitchers' counts - while making a careful study of the pitcher's stuff and location. His skill at exploiting good hitting counts should help him continue to hit for average and RBI's, even if his contact rate slips against better pitching. He kept his K-rate down at 13.6% in ‘09, but that's really the number to watch in the upcoming year, because a significant spike could tell us that he lacks the bat speed necessary to maintain his power approach at the higher levels.
Defensively, Ramirez is probably still underrated. His bad body and lack of obvious tools kept him from going in the upper rounds of the draft, but Ramirez showed above average receiving and blocking skills in his pro debut. Coaches and pitchers alike rave about his game calling ability and his leadership skills. The weakest point of his game might be his average throwing arm, but his fundamentals and footwork were strong enough for him to catch 36% of base stealers (according to the www.minorleaguesplits.com database, which counts postseason numbers - baseball reference has him at 30%, and BA 32% The Pioneer League average was 31%). TotalZone creator Sean Smith put his glove down as +8 runs saved in his limited playing time; if you extrapolate that out to a full season worth of duty, and regress to the major league equivalent, it comes out as a +6, putting him roughly in the second tier of the major's best defensive catchers. The small sample size isn't enough to make Yadier the best Molina comp, but it could allow Ramirez to match Bengie's prime behind the dish.