For a player who began his pro career at 17 playing third base in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, right-hander Yefry Ramírez did OK as a pitcher in 2018. Dealt by the Yankees to the Orioles at the trade deadline in 2017 for international bonus money, Ramírez pitched well at Triple-A Norfolk and made his major league debut June 13 for the Orioles versus the Red Sox.
Ramírez went 3-5 with a 3.88 ERA on the farm for the Tides. With Baltimore, he was 1-8 with a 5.92 ERA in 17 games and 12 starts.
Among Orioles that made starts last year, Ramírez had the second-best strikeout rate at 8.5 per nine innings, behind only Dylan Bundy at 9.6. But, as with Bundy, he’ll need to improve on that ERA in 2019 as he makes a run at a rotation spot starting this week in Sarasota.
“I think the experience (from last season) is going to help me a lot,” Ramírez said at FanFest through translator Ramón Alarcón. “I think I can have a better year this year. I learned so much and I’m going to try and take advantage of that.
“I think there will be a lot of competition. But I really can’t control that. My main goal and focus is to be ready, to be in top shape and to impress in spring training. Hopefully they can consider me for a starting rotation spot as well as a bullpen spot.”
Ramírez, who began last season as the Orioles’ No. 19 prospect per MLB.com and No. 26 by Baseball America, took a few things from last season as he began his preparation for this year.
“I’m trying to improve the consistency of my pitching mechanics, as well as my slider,” he said. “I think it will be a really big pitch and hopefully I can get a lot of outs with it.”
Ramírez, who had a 9.0 strikeout rate in Triple-A, said he feels he can improve on his K rate from the majors last season. In 65 1/3 for the Orioles, he allowed 64 hits and 11 homers (1.5 per nine innings) with 36 walks and 62 strikeouts. The 5.0 walk rate will need to come down and that could lead to the ERA reduction he’s looking for.
Ramírez showed flashes in 2018. He threw five scoreless innings in relief on June 28 versus Seattle. It was the longest outing by an O’s reliever last season. He had a start where he allowed one earned run over five frames versus the Phillies, five scoreless against Texas and one run over 5 2/3 innings versus the White Sox. He put up a quality start in his season finale against Houston, allowing three runs over six innings on Sept. 29.
But the 25-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic has one option left and plenty of competition for a roster spot in either the rotation or bullpen with spring training about to begin.
So which young pitchers will get rotation chances this year now that Nate Karns has been added to the veterans heading the rotation in Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner and Bundy? The group after that includes Ramírez, David Hess, Josh Rogers, John Means, Jimmy Yacabonis, Luis Ortiz and Dillon Tate. Among the list of non-roster pitchers in camp will be Dean Kremer and Chris Lee. And these are just the pitchers coming to big league camp and others from the minors could emerge during the 2019 season.