Friday, April 2, 2010

Up and Coming Catchers, Pt. 3

Wilson Ramos

The Twins are blessed with a pretty good catcher already, you might have heard of him, he's the reigning AL MVP and just came off an absurdly good season where he hit .365 with 28 home runs and won a Gold Glove. The fact that they have ultra toolsy prospect Wilson Ramos nipping at his heels at a position where most teams can't find one good catcher almost seems unfair.

Behind the plate Ramos boasts a strong arm, consistently throwing out over 40% of runners throughout his minor league career. Though during spring training Twins coaches noted that they'd like to have the youngster work on his overall receiving skills. That's not terribly surprising given Ramos' age, he's just 22, but Gardenhire has also praised his strong work ethic and ability to make corrections on the fly.

Offensively Ramos' ceiling is much higher than his minor league track record might suggest. Ramos has consistently hit for solid average, posting a .317 mark last year at AA (as a 21 year old) with a career .294 average. While his power hasn't really manifested itself yet - his ISO last year was just .137 - everyone is in agreement that he can hit the ball a long ways. To that end, he's impressed the organization this spring by hitting .400 in 30 at-bats with four doubles (two off the very top of the wall) and two annihilated home runs, the last of which was hit well OVER the batters eye at the Twins spring training facility in Ft. Myers.

If his arm and his power are his two greatest strengths, Ramos still has some holes to his game. Besides needing to improve some facets of his defensive game, he also struggles as most kids his age do, with command of the strike zone. While Ramos took a major leap forward last year by slashing his K rate in half from the year before, and all the way down to a very good 11.2%, his walk rate also tumbled to a nearly non-existent 2.8%. While the low walk rate wont keep him from being a very good Major Leaguer as long as his average continues to stay where it is and he can develop his power some more, it can't hurt. He's also not the fleetest of foot, though that's hardly uncommon at the position.

Ramos' spring had Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire pleading with GM Bill Smith to let him take the kid north. Smith wisely declined, likely realizing that he still needed plenty of work at AAA to polish off his game. As it stands the Twins will open the season with Drew Butera as Mauer's backup until Mauer's regular caddy, Jose Morales (another solid young catcher for the Twins) returns from off-season wrist surgery. Morales should be back by the time the calendar turns over at the end of April.

The problem for the Twins - if this can really be described as a problem - is that they don't really have anywhere to put Ramos once he is ready. They're pretty set at catcher with Mauer who just re-upped for another eight years in his hometown, and they have a pretty good first baseman as well in Justin Morneau, and at DH they have Jason Kubel. All three are very good hitters who have long-term contracts.

So the question Twins fans are asking is, "where does Ramos fit in?" It's a tough question. Clearly there is no spot for him right now, and despite the main stream media pushing the 'move Mauer to a different position,' meme, there are few ideas that could be more absurd than that, and the Twins front office agrees. Mauer isn't moving anywhere for a long time.

So with the Twins roster as currently constructed, one must believe that a trade will eventually happen. But when and to where and for what kind of return? I can't say for certain where, but generally speaking, players of Ramos' caliber are the kind that can headline all-star trades. There has been some speculation that the Twins might trade him for a closer - Heath Bell is the most common name bandied about - but I believe the Twins would be foolish to trade a prospect of Ramos' caliber for just a closer.

No comments:

Post a Comment