Ramsey Provides Young Outfield Depth

If you are a young outfielder in the Cleveland Indians farm system, it is possible that you might be a bit discouraged by your prospects of cracking the Major League roster any time this season. It is a stark contrast to just a couple of years ago when, prior to the arrivals of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher and the success of Michael Brantley, the Indians outfield was a frightening mess consisting of injured stars like Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo and fill-ins like Ezequiel Carrera, Aaron Cunningham, Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan, Kosuke Fukudome, and Austin Kearns, just to name a few.

Once devoid of depth at the top levels of the farm system, the Indians now have several viable internal candidates to step up in the event that any of the members of the 25-man roster are unable to play for any length of time. Several more big name prospects just at the beginnings of their professional careers wait behind these options.

Last July’s acquisition of James Ramsey from the St. Louis Cardinals, as the return for former staff ace Justin Masterson, added another layer of depth to a stronger group of candidates in the upper levels of Cleveland’s minor league system.

Ramsey got just over a month of work in with the Indians after joining the organization at Columbus in his first significant experience at the Triple-A level. If, and when, he is able to contribute to the Big League club is still to be determined. The Indians’ roster is composed of several returning outfield options from last season, including Brantley and Bourn and their established roles in left and center field, and the platoon-to-be in right field that will include any of the returning David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, Swisher, and even offseason acquisition Brandon Moss.

That list does not include Zach Walters, another midseason acquisition and a man without a position in the Tribe’s mix, and Tyler Holt, whose late season addition supplied the Indians with a far better defensive weapon in right field than any of the above players provided last year.

Ramsey joins these men as a non-roster invitee to the Major League portion of Spring Training this season after participating in the annual Winter Development Program at Progressive Field at the end of January. His likely outfield mate in Columbus, Carlos Moncrief, will join him there while already having his place staked out on the 40-man roster while staring down the same difficult lineup to crack.

Ramsey started last season at the Double-A level for the Cardinals. It was his second season of AA ball at Springfield, and his numbers were far improved. In 2013, he logged 93 games in the Texas League and hit .251 with 15 home runs, eleven doubles, and 44 runs batted in. Prior to being dealt to Cleveland, he was hitting .300 for the club with 13 homers, 14 doubles, and 36 RBI in just 67 games. He was named a Player of the Week there in April and was a selection for the league’s Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star teams. He was also selected to participate in the Futures Game at Target Field in July.

He was limited twice during the first half of the season, initially missing 24 games due to a shoulder injury after slamming into a wall during a game in May, and later for 18 more games with an intercostal muscle strain.

After splitting time in Springfield between center and right field, the Clippers used Ramsey almost exclusively in center field during the month that they had him. His power numbers declined some in Columbus – he hit three home runs in his 28 games there – but he hit .284 with a .365 on-base percentage.

Ramsey was originally drafted in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft by the Minnesota Twins out of Florida State University, but did not sign. He was selected the following season by the Cardinals with the 23rd overall pick of the first round.

He hit .229 in his first season in the Cardinals organization, playing 56 games for Palm Beach of High-A ball. He hit a combined .263 over four different stops in 2013, hitting 18 home runs and 62 RBI. He played the bulk of his games that year for Springfield, slugging 15 home runs and batting .251 during his time there.

Ironically enough, Ramsey was thought to be stuck behind a plethora of outfield options and prospects in the Cardinals system and was therefore expendable last summer, so having a long list of capable outfielders on Cleveland’s depth chart in front of him will be somewhat familiar territory for the 25-year-old. He was the number six prospect on MLB.com’s organizational rankings for the Cardinals prior to last season, but saw several other top prospects ahead of him, including the late Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, Shane Robinson, and Tommy Pham, all of whom were behind Major Leaguers Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos, and Jon Jay on the team’s depth chart.

Heading in to the 2015 season, barring any significant injuries to the outfielders established on the 25-man roster, Ramsey should slot in as a starter for the Clippers while waiting for an opportunity to crack the Indians’ 40-man roster.

The left-handed hitting prospect has shown glimpses of power throughout his brief minor league career, but seems to be trying to find a balance between hitting for power and hitting for average. He is not much of a speed threat on the base paths, as he stole just five bases in seven attempts last year after stealing ten and 13 in his first two seasons, but he will showcase his speed in the field. Defensively, he has a perfect record in left and right field and a .992 fielding percentage in center over his three professional seasons. He has made four total errors, all in center field in 2013, and was free of miscues all of last season in 185 chances. His arm is considered strong enough to handle the right field position, which could be his path of least resistance to the Indians’ active roster.

Ramsey was ranked fifth by MLB.com in their Indians’ prospect rankings after the season, trailing shortstop Francisco Lindor and outfielders Clint Frazier, Tyler Naquin, and Bradley Zimmer. Naquin could join him in Columbus in 2015, while the other two outfielders on the list are a couple of years away still. Ramsey is considered a strong character guy with leadership skills and bypassed an opportunity to get into professional baseball a year earlier to finish up his senior year, which noticeably improved his draft position the following season.

Seeing Ramsey in Cleveland anytime before September this season may be a sign that something has gone wrong in the Indians’ postseason pursuits for 2015. The Tribe needs a healthy contribution from Bourn at the top of the lineup and continued growth and consistency from Brantley. They have four veterans already in the mix in right field for playing time and two more younger players in Holt and Walters with MLB experience who are also on the 40-man roster as well.

Ramsey’s best hope is a strong showing at Columbus, which will either improve his trade value midseason or will increases his chances for making the 2016 outfield, when a pair of then-34-year-olds in Murphy and Raburn will become free agents, opening up room in right at Progressive Field.

Photo: Jonathan Quilter/Columbus Dispatch

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