Al M. from Hockessin, Delaware, writes: What can you tell me about Elizardo Ramirez, the Phillies' Class A farmhand who hit the baseball version of the Powerball when he was called up by the big club this week. I watched his first major league appearance, mopping up against the Mets, and his curveball looks quite good. I know he's also a strike-throwing machine. Is the rest of his stuff up to snuff?
Ramirez is from the Dominican Republic, and was signed as a free agent in 1999. He made his full-season debut last year, going 13-9 with a 3.78 ERA in the Florida State League. His peripherals were less impressive: 101/33 K/BB in 157 innings, with 181 hits allowed. His walk rate was very low ... like you say, he throws strikes ... but his K/IP and H/IP marks were weak. But given his youth (just 21 this year), the Phillies were happy with his performance. In 2002 he posted a 73/2 K/BB in 73 innings in rookie ball.
Ramirez's fastball runs between 88 and 91 mph, and could get a bit higher than that as he matures physically. He is athletic, but isn't a big guy, standing just 6-foot on the mound. He's added 40 pounds since he signed, but still checks in at just 180. As you observed, he has a good curveball, and he'll mix in a straight changeup. His stuff is rated as average overall, but because he hits his spots in the strike zone, he has been effective as a pro.
I don't think Ramirez is ready for full-scale major league competition, at least as a starter, though he could do OK in the mop-up role for now. I gave him a Grade C in my book this year, due to the poor K/IP and H/IP marks at Clearwater. But remember that Grade C pitching prospects can surprise you.
Jack C. from Toronto asks: Down at the Indians' Carolina League team in Kinston, N.C., Ryan Garko has been outhitting Michael Aubrey by a huge margin, but hasn't received any press at all. Going into the season, Garko didn't get much press either -- he didn't manage to crack the Baseball America top 30 list for the Indians. Can you tell me a little about him, and how he compares to Aubrey?
Garko: Hitting .346 with .445 OBP and .634 SLG in 41 games at Class A Kinston, 10 homers, 15 walks, 24 strikeouts in 153 at-bats. Third-round pick out of Stanford in 2003, 6-2, 225, bats right, DOB: 1/2/81. Plays first base, catcher, and DH, defense rated as average.
Aubrey: Hitting .324 with .403 OBP and .496 SLG in 36 games at Kinston, five homers, 12 walks, 19 strikeouts in 139 at-bats. First-round pick out of Tulane in 2003, 6-0, 195, bats left, DOB: 4/15/82. Plays first base, defense rated as excellent, potential Gold Glove eventually.
Comparison: Both Garko and Aubrey played well at major NCAA Division I programs, though Garko faced better competition at Stanford. Garko may actually have more raw power, but scouts say that Aubrey is a more polished hitter and is more likely to hit for average at higher levels. Aubrey is more athletic and superior defensively. Both have good plate discipline and strike zone judgment. Overall, Aubrey is a more complete player when everything is considered, which is why scouts rated him as a better prospect on draft day, but Garko is a fine hitter and no slouch on the field.
James from York, Pennsylvania, writes: In the 20th round of last year's draft, the Braves took left-handed pitcher Kyle Bakker, a 6-foot-9 beast out of Georgia Tech. I remember he was supposed to be a draft-and-follow, his stock having dropped that year. Well, he signed, and so far has looked like a steal. Of course, it's far too early to tell whether or not his signing was a good deal or not, but what do you think about Bakker?
Bakker was considered a potential first-round pick going into the spring of 2003. But his mechanics got fouled up (not unusual for a 6-9 pitcher), and his command wavered. Most teams thought he would go back to Georgia Tech for his senior year, but the Braves managed to sign him with a 20th round pick.
Bakker has a 1.65 ERA and a 3-0 record this year for Rome in the Sally League, being used in relief. In 16.1 innings, he's given up 13 hits, and has a 10/12 K/BB ratio. That's not a good K/BB, and calls into question his projection for higher levels, though the sample size is very small at this stage.
Despite his size, Bakker is not a hard thrower. He can hit 90 mph at times, but his fastball tends to flatten out and lose movement at that velocity. He does better at 86-88 with movement, though it appears faster due to his size. His breaking ball and changeup are OK, not great, but when his command is on he can zip through a lineup. I'm concerned about his high walk rate this year, and his future at higher levels is uncertain.
Gettis is a good story. He played high school baseball in Cahokia, Illinois, but wasn't drafted after graduating in 1998, since everyone thought he was going to play quarterback at the University of Minnesota. But Gettis decided to play baseball instead, signing with the Royals as an undrafted free agent, an unusual course of action for a high school player. His progress through the farm system has been slow, but he broke out with a nice 2003 season at Double-A Wichita, hitting .302 with a career-best 16 homers, 103 RBI, and 15 steals.
Gettis is listed at 6-0, 240, so you might think he is a short fat guy. He is actually an excellent athlete, muscular, fast and strong. He has worked hard to craft his swing and improve his plate discipline. While he'll never be a huge walk machine and is unlikely to hit .300 at the major league level, he should be able to hold his own despite a fairly high strikeout rate. Although they don't get a lot of publicity for it, the Royals preach the virtues of plate discipline and working the count, and Gettis has benefited from this approach.
At this point, Gettis' defense is still ahead of his hitting. He is a sound defensive outfielder, with decent range and a strong and accurate arm. His best position is right field, though he can play center in an emergency. I don't think Gettis is going to be a star, but he should be a useful player. The Royals praise his work ethic and refusal to give up even though his pro career started slowly.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.