Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
Noe Ramirez reached Boston for the first time last season, appearing in 17 games and, outside a couple difficult outings, pitched 13 strong innings out of the bullpen for the 2015 Red Sox. For those aware of Ramirez’s background, reaching Boston at all was a miracle in and of itself, and it is because of his background that no one should count him out moving forward.
The 26-year-old Ramirez grew up in Ramona Gardens, a housing project in East Los Angeles termed one of the most dangerous in all of California. In fact, Ramona Gardens was once described as a “bleak bastion of crime” by the Los Angeles Times. The dirt field in Ramona Gardens is where Ramirez learned how to throw a baseball, and Ramona Gardens is where Ramirez learned what pressure felt like, which is important considering his potential role as a reliever for one of the most demanding baseball media markets and fan bases in the game.
Ramirez played college ball at Cal State Fullerton and was taken by the Red Sox in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. The 6’3” Ramirez has a quick and deceptive delivery, throwing the ball from a low arm slot and hiding the ball very well until the moment of release. Ramirez has three pitches – fastball, changeup and slider – and although none grade out as exceptionally strong, his high mound IQ and deceptive delivery have made him quite effective at getting hitters out.
Ramirez’s first professional season was in 2012 with Greenville, where the Red Sox used him as a starting pitcher. However, after struggling through 16 starts that year, the Red Sox transitioned him to the bullpen prior to the 2013 season and he excelled in the role. Ramirez started out 2013 with Salem, where he pitched 47 innings, struck out 44 batters, walked only nine and compiled a 2.11 ERA. Following this performance, Ramirez was called up to Portland, where he pitched his final 28.2 innings of the 2013 season, all of which were just as good (22 H, 8 BB, 31 K, 2.83 ERA).
Ramirez spent the entire 2014 season with Portland, where he served as their closer and was selected to the Eastern League All-Star team. He finished 2014 with a final line of 67 IP, 56 H, 16 BB, 56 SO and a 2.15 ERA. Needless to say, Ramirez’s first 140 innings of relief work could not have gone better, which is why the Red Sox made him a non-roster invitee to Spring Training and had him open up the 2015 season right on the doorstep of Boston in Pawtucket.
What Went Right in 2015
In Pawtucket, almost everything went right for Ramirez. In early July, Ramirez had compiled a 2.42 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and .217 batting average against for Pawtucket, and found out the Red Sox were not only adding him to the 40-man roster, but also the big league 25-man roster.
Ramirez spent most of July with the Red Sox, but was sent back down for all of August and then called back up when the rosters expanded in September. Despite some struggles during his first MLB stint in July, Ramirez pitched well overall considering it was his first experience with major league hitters.
Although Ramirez finished the 2015 season with a 4.18 ERA for Boston, he compiled a very respectable 3.38 ERA over 14 of his final 17 appearances. Additionally, over the eight innings he pitched in September and October, Ramirez held opponents to a .214 BA. Lastly, although an admittedly small sample size (10 ABs), Ramirez did well against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .200 BA overall.
What Went Wrong in 2015
During his time in Pawtucket and Boston, Ramirez experienced issues with his command. For context, his walks per nine innings was 2.1 in 2014 and 2.0 in 2013. However, in his 42.2 total innings with Pawtucket in 2015, Ramirez’s walks per nine innings increased to 3.8. It was even worse in Boston, though, as Ramirez walked 4.8 batters per nine innings, a completely unsustainable number for a major league reliever.
With that said, Ramirez did see improvement in his command during his second stint in Boston in September and October. Other than an outing in Toronto where he walked two batters in two-thirds of an inning, Ramirez only walked one batter over his final eight innings of 2015. Still, considering Ramirez dealt with command issues in Pawtucket as well in 2015, it is clear this is something the Red Sox and Ramirez will need to watch.
Ramirez also struggled with right-handed hitters during his time in Boston. Over 17 appearances, right-handed hitters registered 42 at-bats against Ramirez, batting .262 overall, with 3 HRs and a .500 slugging percentage.
2016 Outlook/ MLB ETA
The best thing about Ramirez and what may serve him well heading into 2016, besides his high IQ on the mound, is his toughness, his ability to stay even-keeled, learn from his mistakes and be put right back out there in a high-leverage situation. We saw that last year when he had a poor September outing in Toronto, but came back the very next night in the eighth inning of a one-run game to get through the heart of the Blue Jays order. This personality trait could make Ramirez an effective seventh-inning reliever, if he can figure out what plagued him in 2015.
Ramirez is back with the Red Sox this spring, but is on the outside looking in with regards to a spot on the team’s 25-man roster. In Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, the Red Sox added two right-handers during the offseason. Their presence, along with fellow right-handers, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, make it tough for the Red Sox to find room or a need for Ramirez. Although there is one spot left in the bullpen for a righty, John Farrell has said he wants someone who can be extended over multiple innings. If true, there are better options vying for the spot, such as Steven Wright and Matt Barnes. Plus, with two minor-league options left for Ramirez, the Red Sox may want to obtain flexibility on the roster and in their bullpen depth by sending Ramirez down to Pawtucket to start 2016.
With that said, he still needs work, which is why it may be in Ramirez’s best long-term interest to start the year in Pawtucket, so he can work on some of the issues that plagued him during his 2015 stay in Boston, such as his command and difficulties with right-handed hitters. Although Ramirez will likely have to wait his turn again this season, he should get his next turn at some point in 2016.
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