ALTOONA, PA – Harold Ramirez began his 2016 campaign on quite a cold — literally and figuratively speaking — stretch. After a breakout season last year, a lot was expected of Ramirez as he was promoted to Altoona to begin the 2016 season. He showed glimpses of greatness and performed well this spring, so the expectation would have certainly been for that to continue after coming north.
Contrarily, Ramirez was slashing .149/.184/.234 two weeks into the season, looked poor defensively in center field while awaiting the late arrival of Austin Meadows, and simply wasn’t showing the skill and talent that made him a top prospect.
This might be the most non-analytical and excuse oriented thing I’ll type on this site, but it literally just may have been cold.
“It was very hard, because we felt a little heavy and tired because of how cold it was,” Ramirez said. “We go from Florida to here, and Florida is hot. The weather is very different, and it made it difficult.”
Most players coming up through the Pirates’ system will experience cold weather while in full-season West Virginia two levels prior to Altoona. In Ramirez’ case, a hamstring injury only a couple of days into his 2014 season didn’t afford him that opportunity.
The weather was blistery cold the first few weeks of the season in Altoona, and as the temperature rose, so did Harold Ramirez’ batting average.
Since April 21st, Ramirez is hitting .328 with an OPS of .815. That includes an 11-game hitting streak in mid-May where 20-for-47 for a .426 average and 1.053 OPS.
Currently, Ramirez is seventh best in the Eastern League with a .294 average, and he is fifth in the league with 84 hits on the year.
Other than the weather, Ramirez confirmed some changes in his batting stance, stride, and separation that have allowed him to see the ball better coming in and unload through his swing.
Through working with Altoona hitting coach Kevin Riggs, Ramirez made an adjustment to get lower in his stance to allow for his legs to do more of the work in his swing.
“I hit a little more down — a little lower in my stance — now,” Ramirez said. “I was hitting higher, and when I was swinging, I wasn’t using my legs. Now that I’m lower, I’m using them.”
For some reason, he resorted to the higher stance once he was north with Altoona after already making that adjustment in Spring Training.
“He’s got great hands,” Riggs told Pirates Prospects, “but if you aren’t using your lower half properly, you’re not really accelerating through the ball, and it gives you some read recognition on pitches when you get down there. That’s something that he’s focused on, and we’ve been working on.”
With the adjustment, Ramirez is able to load and throw his hands through his swing more efficiently, allowing him to utilize his base better for more power. He also said that it has helped with his vision of the ball coming towards the plate.
Ultimately, Riggs believes there is more gap-to-gap and home run potential in there.
“From what I’ve seen on video from last year, he used a lot more hands,” Riggs said. “There’s a lot more in there as far as power and driving the ball. He’s got a strong base and a strong body, so it’s something we are trying to tap into.”
After discussing these changes with both Ramirez and Riggs, I wanted to take a look at Ramirez’s spray charts from last year to this year to see if there are any significant differences. From what these charts show, it is difficult to see a big difference in Ramirez’s hitting from this and last year.
|2015 Spray Chart||2016 Spray Chart|
My conclusive nature would tend to deduct that Ramirez simple had to make the proper adjustments to the advanced level and pitching to continue with the same kind of hitting patterns that he has been used to in the past. He is still hitting the ball mostly middle-away with limited pull power.
Of course, it may take some time for the adjustments made with Ramirez’s swing to be fully implemented and show fruition, so some time may be needed to fully assess the results. As of now, Ramirez is still a singles hitter that needs to develop. He is still only 21 years old (some people tend to forget) and about three and a half years younger than most of his competition.
One positive to take right now is that Ramirez will be able to get the majority of his playing time in center field now that Austin Meadows has moved up to Indianapolis. Ramirez’s bat profiles better as a center fielder; however, he needs to get quicker to stick at the position. To advance in his professional career, something will have to give. He will either need to develop a better sense for center field with more quickness or develop a little more power from his bat.
Ramirez still has a lot of development left as a professional baseball player, but ultimately, he continues to hit extremely well and show the reasons why he is considered a top prospect.