Tom Nieto and Floyd Rayford are bullish on Wilson Ramos, and for good reason. The 22-year-old Ramos is not only one of the top prospects in the Twins organization, he is among the best catching prospects in the game. A solidly-built native of Venezuela with light-tower power, Ramos is beginning the 2010 campaign in Triple-A Rochester. Nieto and Rayford, the club’s manager and hitting coach, respectively, discussed the talented young backstop prior to last night’s International League opener.
David Laurila: Can you give a snapshot scouting report on Wilson Ramos?
Tom Nieto: Obviously, he has tremendous power. The ball jumps off his bat real well. Arm-strength wise, he’s got a plus arm. Defensively, he moves well. Last year his season was sort of stop-and-go. He broke his finger early in the year and was out for about four or five weeks and then he came back and hurt a hamstring and was out for another long period. But when he did finally get in there and have some chances to play, he showed real well and had a real fine year.
DL: Is he farther ahead offensively or defensively right now?
Nieto: I don’t know if either one is ahead of the other, but obviously, as a young player he has a lot to work on — he’s got a lot to work on with his defense and also with his hitting, too. But games will take care of that. The more games he plays, the more experience he’s going to get and the better he’s going to get. The key this year is to try to keep him healthy and let him play the whole year.
DL: Is there any aspect of his defensive game that needs more work?
Nieto: I don’t think you can really pinpoint anything. Young catchers need to go back and catch; it’s the only way that you can learn. You can’t learn it in a book, you can’t learn it by people telling you, you have to go back there and experience it — experience it for 100-plus games. You get better when you get back there and catch, and that’s what we’re going to try to do with him.
DL: How much will it help him to catch veteran pitchers here in Triple-A, some of whom have big-league experience?
Nieto: I don’t know if it’s going to help him that much. He’s got a pretty good idea about his game-management skills. Our pitchers and catchers are all on the same page, whether it’s Wilson or [Allan] de San Miguel and our pitching staff. They learn from each other and make adjustments off of each other, and we’re looking forward to some good things.
DL: How close to big-league ready is Ramos?
Nieto: I think he is real close. He’s here in Triple-A and even if he was in Double-A he’d be real close. He’s that kind of player. I think that at any point he could go to the big leagues and do well.
DL: Could you see Ramos moving to another position if the situation dictated it?
Nieto: That is completely the last thought in our minds right now. We’re looking at him as a catcher and that’s what we’re going to concentrate on.
David Laurila: How would you describe Wilson Ramos as a hitter?
Floyd Rayford: Ramos is basically a line-drive type hitter. He hits the ball real hard. I think that he has a good, short swing, but occasionally it gets a little long. But I think that as we go, if he doesn’t buy out as much with his bottom hand, he’s a pretty good hitter — a line-drive hitter. Anything hanging, he just kills it.
DL: Does Ramos project as a power hitter?
Rayford: Absolutely. He’s going to hit 25-30 home runs. I remember when we had Joe Mauer — he never really hit a lot of home runs. A lot of people didn’t even talk much about him hitting home runs, and when [Ramos] comes into his own, he will eventually hit a lot of home runs.
DL: Where is his power?
Rayford: Most of his power is to left-center and right-center, really. He doesn’t pull a lot of balls in the game. He’s mostly left-center, right-center and at times he’ll just go dead center.
DL: What are the biggest adjustments he’s made as a hitter?
Rayford: I think that his biggest adjustment is when he gets his pitch now. When he used to get his pitch, he’d miss it sometimes. When he gets his pitch now, he’s basically pretty much on it. He’s matured and he doesn’t chase a lot of pitches out of the strike zone; he doesn’t swing at too many bad breaking balls like he used to. He tends to hit more balls that are in his zone and he stays gap to gap, and I think that helps him a lot by not striking out that much. And he’s such a strong kid. You don’t see too many kids at his age that are as strong as he is; he’s a very strong kid. You won’t see too many people who hit balls farther than he hits them, and that’s a great plus to have. I wish I would have had it when I played.
DL: Is Ramos farther ahead offensively than defensively right now?
Rayford: I think he is. He has a lot of stuff to work with, though. He has a great arm — he has a great arm for a big guy — and he’s starting to handle pitches better. I think that if it all comes at once, he’s going to be a special player.