Pitching in high school is nothing like pitching in the major leagues. For players with the talent to be drafted, often their fastballs are enough to overpower opposing hitters and even when it doesn’t, just the fastball and a breaking ball almost always does the trick. It’s very rare that a promising high school hurler has to use a changeup very often. But despite that being the case, teams looking to select prep pitchers always like to see that the pitcher has “a feel for a changeup” in the limited number of times that they throw it. And when a high school pitcher does throw a quality changeup, it could change everything in terms of evaluating that prospect. United South High School right-hander Roel Ramirez is not a high school pitching prospect with tons of untapped potential. Thanks to his strong changeup, though, he found his way to the Rays’ 8th round selection and the chance to pitch in the big leagues someday.
Many high school pitchers prompt optimism because of lean frames, prompting evaluators to describe them as projectable. When a pitcher is say 6’4″ and 180 pounds, it’s easy to picture him adding on 40 pounds of muscle in the coming years and adding velocity to his fastball in the process. Roel Ramirez is athletic and well-built, but at 6’1″, 205, he’s not projectable at all. In addition, Ramirez’s arm action is very clean and repeatable, certainly a good thing, but it also rids the Rays of another avenue to potentially get him some more velocity. The Rays are going to try their best to develop him assuming they can get him signed, but for the large part, his stuff right now may be essentially the same as what it is moving forward. The good news for Ramirez and the reason he got selected as high as he did, though, is that his current stuff is still quite impressive.
Ramirez’s fastball ranges in the 88-92 MPH range, and while it’s a relatively straight pitch, he does a good job locating it down in the zone for a high school pitcher. Its best purpose could very well be to set up his changeup, which he does a great job selling with the same arm slot as his fastball before finishing with nice sink. The Rays are well known for their ability to develop changeups in their pitchers, and adding Ramirez to their organization with a solid base for his changeup already will be quite a treat. Ramirez’s breaking ball is where it gets a little more sketchy, but Ramirez has shown some flashes with a big-breaking low-70′s curveball while also fiddling around with a low-80′s slider. For a high school pitcher, Ramirez has an impressive arsenal, and it should only get better as he works his way up the professinoal ranks.
Ramirez will never be a hard thrower and that is going to make his journey as a prospect more difficult from the start. But at the same time, you can look at his size and arsenal and be reminded of a current Rays starting pitcher: Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson is 6’1″, 190 with a low-90′s fastball, a great changeup, and a good curveball, and he’s been an excellent pitcher for the Rays the last couple of years. Ramirez has a long way to go before becoming the next Hellickson. Hellickson succeeds thanks to excellent fastball command, a changeup that has gone from above-average to unhittable, and a curveball that only continues to improve, and Ramirez will need plenty of work sharpening up his command and his secondary pitches to give him a chance to be a Hellickson-type pitcher. But Helilckson shows us that just because Ramirez isn’t the flashiest prospect doesn’t mean he can’t be an extremely successful major league pitcher down the line. At the end of the day, raw stuff is only part of the equation when it comes to how successful a pitcher will be–it’s all about what a pitcher can do with what the stuff he has. Roel Ramirez has already started showing how good he can be even without the most dominant fastball, and the Rays hope that he’s just getting started.