RP Neil Ramirez has thrown just two innings in 2014 after recently being called up when Justin Ruggiano went to the DL, but fans can already see a major league mentality when he steps up to the mound.
Ramirez’s approach is one of supreme confidence; his fastball comes in at 95-97 mph out of the bullpen, and he is not afraid to challenge hitters with it. Ramirez also features a hard, wipeout slider that hitters find difficult to distinguish from his fastball, resulting in plenty of swings and misses.
Making hitters swing and miss is what Ramirez does best. In 103 innings pitched as a starter for the Texas Rangers’ double-A team in 2013, Ramirez had 127 strikeouts for a rate of 11.10 K/9. Ramirez then came over to the Chicago Cubs as the player to be named later in the Matt Garza trade and struck out five in 4.2 scoreless innings at Tennessee last year, before moving up to Iowa in 2014 and striking out 11 in seven innings pitched.
Ramirez has a slighter build than most starting pitchers at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, and scouts have suggested in the past that he would have more success out of the bullpen than as a starter. If Ramirez can stick in the Cubs’ pen this year, he would be yet another power arm to pair with Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon, and could also be in line for saves at some point this season.
Ramirez attacks the strike zone in a way teams want to see out of a closer, and the fiery attitude he displayed against the Cincinnati Reds in just his second MLB appearance also seems to indicate he has the mentality that separates effective closers from effective relief pitchers.
Ramirez will need to continue to make an impression on the Cubs over the next week, as pitcher Jake Arrieta will be called up to start on Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals and a pitcher will be sent back to Iowa to make room. At this point, the choice will come down to Ramirez and right-handed pitcher Brian Schlitter. Despite more of a major league resume, Schlitter has inspired zero confidence, with one strikeout and a 4.70 ERA in 7.2 innings pitched.
Given the opportunity, Ramirez has the skill and makeup to excel as a relief pitcher. To say the bullpen has been less than reliable this season would be an understatement, and Ramirez may be one of the key pieces that helps turn a weakness into a strength for the Cubs moving forward.