Jose Ramirez‘s live arm was on display against Kevin Gausman this past Friday. The New York Yankees’ minor-leaguer consistently unleashed 94 mph to 95 mph four-seam fastballs against the Bowie Baysox from his low three-quarter arm slot. The pitch touched 97 mph, but Ramirez’s low release point kept it on the same plane on which it was released. It did, however, feature arm-side run.
Ramirez complemented his four seamer with an 81 mph to 84 mph changeup that featured significant vertical drop and slight fade as it neared the plate. The right-hander commanded the pitch well down in the zone and it was his go-to out pitch when he was ahead in the count. But his arm speed slows down noticeably during his delivering when compared to his fastball.
The Baysox were helpless against Ramirez’s one-two punch. The Dominican lasted five innings, struck out seven batters and walked one.
With two above-average offerings, the 22-year-old Yankee minor-leaguer has a strong foundation to become a major league starting pitcher — but there still are several questions he’ll need to answer before his future role becomes clearer.
One concern is inefficiency. Ramirez’s Double-A walk rate is just 5.5% in 24 innings, but his fastball command is poor. Against Bowie, he often worked deep into counts. Scouts who have followed his career noted his pitch counts escalate quickly and he rarely lasts deep into games — though Ramirez may be turning that trend around. In Double-A this season he’s averaged just fewer than 16 pitches per inning, which would land him between the sixth and seventh innings on a full workload.
But to be effective as a starter, he’ll need to do more than throw strikes. He’ll have to throw quality strikes, and those will only come with improved command.
Another issue is his breaking ball. Ramirez throws a “slutter” — a slider with predominately horizontal break. It’s a poor 86 mph to 88 mph pitch that has little present swing-and-miss ability. On two occasions near the end of his start, Ramirez flashed a below-average — but improved — slider with more horizontal tilt, but this shape needs to be far more consistent and his command must improve.
Finally, Ramirez’s delivery has noticeable effort and recoil. While he’s well-proportioned at 6-foot-3 and likely is more than the 190 pounds he’s listed at, Ramirez’s mechanics, along with his other issues, could ultimately push him to the pen. In the bullpen he could be a dangerous high-leverage reliever who can get left-handed hitters out with his changeup.
The Yankees should keep the Dominican as a starter until Ramirez’s issues force him to the bullpen. The rotation will grant him valuable repetitions and opportunities to improve his slider and command. None of the three concerns is insurmountable, but collectively, they’ll likely be too much for him to overcome.