Washington Nationals minor league profile: Neil Ramirez

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ARLINGTON, TX - JUNE 06: Neil Ramirez
ARLINGTON, TX - JUNE 06: Neil Ramirez /
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The Washington Nationals signed reliever Neil Ramirez to a minor league deal on Thursday, adding some organizational depth.

You can never have too much pitching, and the Washington Nationals recently added to their pitching depth by signing Neil Ramirez to a minor league deal. The 28-year-old reliever most recently pitched for the New York Mets, but was released on July 23.

Ramirez has struggled mightily in 2017, pitching to a 7.18 ERA in 29 games between the San Francisco Giants and Mets. Much of his demise this season can be contributed to control issues. He is capable of being a quality reliever, but must trust his defense and throw strikes. He has walked 21 batters in 31.1 innings, which is a 6.032 BB/9.

There are several signs that point to Ramirez being able to turn things around. He has performed well in the big leagues in the past, including pitching to a 1.44 ERA in 50 games in 2014 for the Chicago Cubs. A year later, he pitched to a 3.21 ERA, but has struggled since.

Ramirez features a simple and repeatable delivery with quick arm action. He throws four pitches: a fastball, slider, curveball, and change-up, but primarily relies on the first three. His fastball typically sits in the mid-90s, while his secondary pitches range anywhere from the upper-70s to the mid-80s.

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According to Brooks Baseball, Ramirez has only thrown his fastball 48.52% of the time this season, a career-low. When he was a dominant reliever in 2014, he threw his fastball 71.67% of the time and opponents only hit .173 against it.

He also did a much better job of limiting walks in 2014. He only walked 17 batters in 43.2 innings, which is a 3.504 BB/9. His curveball is a Bugs Bunny curveball, similar to Gio Gonzalez‘s and his slider has a lot of bite. While lots of movement can make pitches hard to hit, it can also be a double-edged sword and make them hard to locate. If Ramirez’s fastball usage increases, his control may also improve.

Tommy Kahnle is a perfect example of how improved control can transform a pitcher. Kahnle features a similar repertoire–a fastball, slider, and change-up–and experienced similar command issues.

In 2015, Kahnle had a 7.83 BB/9 and had an ERA close to 5.00. This year, he has done an excellent job of throwing strikes and has a 1.562 BB/9. Thanks to his improved command, he is putting together a phenomenal season, pitching to a 2.23 ERA in 42 games.

One extremely noticeable difference in Kahnle’s pitch usage between 2015 and 2017 is how little he used his fastball in 2015. He threw his fastball just 56.15% of the time and relied on his secondary pitches too much. He also features lots of movement, so his secondary pitches caused some control issues.

This season, Kahnle has thrown his fastball 71.54% of the time, or 15.39% more than in 2015, and has enjoyed more control and more success. If Ramirez relied more heavily on his fastball, he may experience a similar resurgence to Kahnle.

While increased fastball usage won’t completely correct Ramirez’s command issues, it can help immensely. If Ramirez relies more heavily on his fastball and works with the Syracuse coaching staff, he could quickly reestablish himself as a reliable reliever and eventually become a contributor in the Nats’ bullpen.

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Neil Ramirez hasn’t pitched well this season, but has pitched well in the past and has the potential to return to form. By signing him to a minor league contract, the Nationals have made a low-risk signing with a possible huge reward.

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