Tribe’s Ramsey Needs to Regain Former Top Prospect Ranking

If things had gone according to plan, the Cleveland Indians may have needed to make fewer moves to try to build up their outfield for the coming 2016 season. Instead, 26-year-old outfield prospect James Ramsey has not developed as quickly as hoped and the club was forced to seek outside reinforcements.

When the Indians acquired Ramsey on July 30, 2014, from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for starting pitcher Justin Masterson, he was set to provide Cleveland with much needed depth at the upper levels of the farm system in the outfield. A year and a half later, Ramsey is on the outside looking in at a very crowded camp competition for a spot in the Tribe’s outfield to start the season. He was added by the team to the 40-man roster following the completion of the 2015 season, but the move did not push him to the forefront of the position battle in Goodyear this spring.

If Michael Brantley does indeed miss the beginning of the season for any stretch of time, the Indians will start a completely different outfield than the one that took the field in the opener just one year earlier. Instead of being able to look at internal candidates like Ramsey, they had to seek names from across the map, bringing in guys like Abraham Almonte, Joey Butler, Michael Choice, Collin Cowgill, Rajai Davis, Robbie Grossman, and Shane Robinson to try to fill at least two starting voids on the Indians roster.

Ramsey had success at the plate in waves in his second season with the Columbus Clippers in 2015. He started the year slowly, hitting .211 with a .291 on-base percentage with three homers and ten RBI in 19 games in April, but improved nicely with a .294/.397/.520 slash in May with eight doubles, five homers, 13 RBI, and a season-high 18 walks at the plate. He had a seven-game hitting streak early in the month and finished it off with a six-gamer before the calendar page flipped.

He failed to match much of that improved May over the course of the remainder of the season. In his final 77 games from June to September, he hit just .232 with eleven doubles, two triples, four homers, and 19 RBI. He added 73 strikeouts and just 27 walks.

Ramsey ended the year strong, getting hits in each of his final six games of the regular season while batting .417 with a .500 OBP in the stretch with ten hits and four RBI. The total was just two hits short of his output for all 21 games of August, when he had 12 hits and batted a season-low .164.

He struggled a great deal at home at Huntington Park over the course of the season, hitting just .208. The left-handed hitting Ramsey was nearly even in his splits, batting .243 versus right-handers and .245 against left-handers, but his power was notably more prevalent against righties, who he tagged for ten of his 12 home runs on the season and 33 of his 42 RBI. He struck out in 25.1% of plate appearances against those righties and 26.9% of the time against lefties.

Instead of getting a September call-up and an earlier spot on the 40-man roster, Ramsey concluded the season with the Clippers through the International League playoffs.

In his previous work at Triple-A for the Indians, Ramsey hit .284 with a .365 OBP in 28 games for the club in 2014.

Ramsey came to Cleveland with some high expectations as a former top prospect of the Cardinals and lost in a deep outfield in the organization. He was selected by the team in the first round of the 2012 draft out of Florida State University with the 23rd overall pick. The Minnesota Twins had drafted him in the 22nd round the season before.

He was in his second season at the Double-A level at Cardinals’ affiliate Springfield when he was dealt to the Indians and placed in Triple-A for his first real experience there. He had appeared in one game for Triple-A Memphis in 2013, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout.

He appeared in a professional-high 126 games last season. He has not been a huge source of power, hitting 16 homers in each of his first two full minor league seasons before hitting a dozen last year, and has not been a speed threat on the base paths. He owns a .260 career batting mark across all levels.

Ramsey has played all three outfield spots in his career and was split among the three last season in Columbus. He was perfect in the field for the fourth season in right field, owning a 1.000 career fielding percentage there. He owns a .993 mark in center, including an errorless 2015 season for the Clippers, and a .990 mark in left field (with a .989 number in Columbus last season).

Despite the need in Cleveland, Ramsey will need to work to maintain his prospect status with the club with additional obstacles now in the way and more hard-charging behind him. Once pinched by the strong depth of the Cardinals system, he has played his way into a tight spot in the Indians organization and will have to show some of the skills that earned him spots on each club’s top prospect lists throughout his professional career. If he wants to continue to be a name for the Tribe to consider for the future, he will need to break through the Triple-A ceiling with better results at the plate in Triple-A while maintaining his defensive flexibility.

Photo: Logan Riely/The Columbus Dispatch

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