In the final piece in a four part set examining the Nationals future stars, a look will be taken at a player who has recently been handed the starting catcher job, and is showing the team that it was the right decision.
Ramos burst onto the MLB scene in 2010 with the Twins during a Joe Mauer injury. On May 2nd and 3rd, he went a combined 7-9 with 3 doubles. Though no one believed he was going to spark any kind of a position battle with Mauer, people were impressed and wondered what the Twins would do with a player who was apparently quite talented, yet buried in the minors.
The truth is, Wilson Ramos was a highly rated prospect, even before he had his impressive MLB debut. Going into the 2010 season, Wilson Ramos was rated by all scouting services as one of the Twins’ five best prospects, with most scouts rating him second in the system. Reports said he would be an exceptional offensive player, as well as a top of the line defender. Minor league pitchers said they loved how Ramos called the game, and had anyone but Joe Mauer been the Twins catcher, Ramos’ debut would have been sooner. The only things that prevented Ramos from being number one across the board were his walk rate and his injury history.
Knock on wood, but as of yet, the injury worries have not been a problem. Though he is currently listed as “day-to-day,” Ramos has been able to play except for two scheduled days off in June, and one day as a pinch-hitter. Injuries are part of the game, but there is a difference between a player who gets hurt during the game and one whose body simply cannot handle the grind of over 180 games (including spring training), per year. Ramos may get hurt at some point in his career, in fact, he probably will. But so far, his body has not shown any signs that it cannot handle playing catcher for an entire season.
The second worry was his walk rate. In AA and AAA baseball, this was a legitimate fear. In 591 plate appearances, Ramos drew a grand total of 21 walks, or a walk rate of 3.5%. By comparison, the average MLB walk rate sits around 9% in any given season. Over a regular season of 550 plate appearances, this equates to about 30 less base runners per season. Those 30 base runners could change games and provide a significant shift to a team’s record.
Though the sample size in the majors is small, Ramos may be making progress. In his rookie year, his rate was even worse than his minor league rate, only 2 walks in 82 plate appearances, equating to 2.4% walk rate. However, in his second season in the Show, Ramos is showing improvement. In 182 plate appearances, Ramos has drawn 17 walks. This equates to a 9.3% walk rate; and could signify real strides being made by Ramos to be a more complete hitter.
Since there are indications that Ramos may be shaking the scouts’ concerns about him as a player, the question then becomes, “is Ramos delivering in the areas scouts said he would?” The first question is Wilson’s offensive ability. He was seen as an above average offensive catcher, with a combined minor league batting average of .285, OPS of .762, and 131 extra base hits in 1598 plate appearances. Scouts hoped the power would improve, but were optimistic of the minimal 262 strikeouts in the minors, which would equate to approximately 90 strikeouts in a major league season of 550 plate appearances. This shows bat control which, when Ramos gets stronger, could lead to groundouts becoming singles, singles becoming doubles and doubles becoming homeruns.
In the majors, Ramos is showing strong early numbers. Though his batting average has fallen off from his minor league level, this is expected. What is promising is that his OPS still sits at a respectable level; .725 in 2011. This currently ranks Ramos 11th in the majors among catchers with at least 150 AB, ahead of established starters A.J. Pierzynski, Miguel Olivo and Kurt Suzuki. His 5 HR, 19 RBI, and 21 Runs all also rank in the top 20 of the major leagues.
On the other side of the ball, Ramos is showing good defensive skills as well. One of the most important statistics for a catcher is CERA, or the ERA of his team’s pitchers when he is catching. This statistic must always be taken with a grain of salt, as a team with a rotation like the Phillies will allow its catchers to have a lower CERA than the catcher of a team like the Cubs. But the number is still valuable. When a catcher can take the rotation the Nationals have and produce a CERA that currently ranks 5th among catchers with at least 40 games started, it is a truly impressive achievement. For a catcher to hold a CERA ranking that low despite a starting staff that has only one pitcher ranked in the top 40 of the MLB in ERA shows exceptional mastery of the game of baseball, and the individual pitcher-batter matchups.
Possibly even more impressive than the CERA numbers are the caught stealing numbers that Ramos is compiling. Currently, the leader in CS% in the major leagues of catchers with at least 40 starts is Ramos, with a 50% success rate. This statistic does not tell the whole story, as the best defensive catchers, such as Yadier Molina, only have the best runners attempt to steal in the most favorable circumstances. A lesser defensive catcher, such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia, will have more runners attempt to steal off of him more often, and as such, will have more opportunities to throw runners out. Ramos, in a way, has shown the best of both worlds. He has thrown out half the runners who have dared to steal against him, but has faced only 24 runners total, indicating runners are not that interested in stealing no matter what the circumstances are.
Further amplifying how impressive these numbers are is the fact that Ramos is only 23; the only player that young who is starting at catcher in the Majors. Since a hitter’s peak occurs some time in their late 20s to early 30s, it seems likely that Ramos is headed for improvement in the future. Since he is already a solid starting catcher at the major league level, his natural improvement could quickly vault him into All-Star status.
Projecting catchers is never an exact science. When Buster Posey comes back from his knee injury, he may never be the same player. Carlos Santana is struggling this season after a season ending injury last year. The position is the most dangerous on the field, and so certainties are few and far between. But if Ramos can improve at a normal rate and avoid any serious injuries, he could be the next young National to make himself a household name.
MLB Player Batting Stats – 2011
MLB Player Fielding Stats – As C – 2011
Wilson Ramos Stats
Photo courtesy of:
The Washington Nationals Official Website – Wilson Ramos