Acquired: Draft, 2012 - 1st Round, #23 Overall
James Ramsey's pedigree is one that best exemplifies the Cardinal farm system of late: Late blooming college player who starred in the Cape Cod League the year before (where he played with future AA teammate Stephen Piscotty) he was drafted; mature, high baseball IQ with a great approach at the plate, lots of polished skills.
After tuning up ACC pitching at Florida State his senior season he struggled with the adjustment to pro ball, hitting just .229/.333/.314 in 247 PA's at Palm Beach. Thus began the questions as to whether he could make enough contact to ever hit enough as a pro.
No stranger to critics (he heard them his entire college career too), Ramsey set out to prove the naysayers wrong in 2013 after being left off the Cardinals Top 10 prospect lists by a number of publications -- a slight even in the deepest farm system in baseball. He spent just 18 games repeating Palm Beach, his .361/.481/.557 line in 77 PA's making his case for promotion to AA Springfield loud and clear.
Surprising some with his power outburst at Springfield, his peripherals suggest some similar problems to his initial struggles the year before: Striking out 26% of the time while hitting just .251 in 416 PA's last season indicate that Ramsey still has problems making contact, and that's not a great sign for a 23 year old four year college player playing in AA. The 15 homers were a good sign, as only 8 came at lefty friendly Hammons Field, but he hit only 13 other XBH the entire season: 11 doubles and 2 triples to join 87 singles. Since he's not a big fly type of hitter by batted ball profile (only 24.6% of his balls in play are fly balls in 743 MiLB PA's) it's hard to see how he maintains that home run rate if he's not hitting the ball hard enough into the gaps to rack up doubles -- especially with his good speed.
There's good news to go with the skepticism and you can see it loud and clear in the video: Approach. Ramsey sports a 13.1% walk rate in his minor league career, which makes his lack of contact a bit more tenable as he can get on base at a better than average rate. Walk rates are one of the few skills that translate from the high minors up to MLB, and someone that can walk at a 10-12% rate is going to get a lot of chances to make it work -- especially when that someone can play a premium defensive position like CF. His baserunning skills are "meh": Not a good basestealer but is probably an above-average baserunner who takes the extra base well, based on my small sample of seeing him a year ago.
Ramsey has just slightly better than average speed, but he makes up for it by getting very good jumps on the ball and playing the position instinctually. I watched a couple of Springfield games in June last year where Ramsey put these skills on display. He ran down a ball over his head to make a Jimmy Edmonds-esque basket catch and then cut off a sure double in the gap with a sliding play to hold the runner to a single in a one run game.
Ramsey has a decent arm that plays well in CF but may struggle to play a bit in RF. I have a hunch he's a plus defensive outfielder in LF but it remains to be seen whether he has the bat to play there.
Early in 2014, MLB.com's Bernie Pleskoff floated the idea of moving Ramsey to the infield, a topic the Overlord covered here at VEB. What position? Second base, of course. Because anyone can play second base, didn't you know? Moving him there would certainly open up possible PA's for him at both Springfield and Memphis and I agree with Pleskoff that he certainly has the tools that could allow him to make the transition defensively. Is he that much better a hitter than Colin Walsh though? I don't know that he is, unless there's some power projection left in his bat, and it just doesn't look like that's the case to me.
Probably starting in AA, with the offseason acquisition of Randal Grichuk and Joey Butler filling up the outfield rather quickly in Memphis, as well as the impending promotion of Stephen Piscotty, who's bat better adjusted to Springfield last season. Thing is, the club also snagged Rafael Ortega via waivers, a plus defensive center fielder, which likely leaves Ramsey to get his PA's in RF with Anthony Garcia manning left, or vice versa, depending on how the organization feels about Garcia's arm playing RF.
Teams enjoy giving multiple chances to former first round picks, so Ramsey likely still has quite a bit of value as a trade asset. The power surge last year certainly didn't hurt anything and neither did his plate discipline
I'll be honest, when I watch Ramsey I feel like I'm watching the second coming of Andy Van Slyke. Not that he's as good as Van Slyke, just that he looks so much like him. The stout frame, athletic, explosive swing, and the balls-to-the-wall aggression he displays going after the ball on defense.
In my heart of hearts, James Ramsey is version 1.1 of Andy Van Slyke. The logical part of my brain just doesn't allow me to predict him to ever be that good though -- there's too many red flags for me offensively.
I think he's going to repeat AA and get every chance to continue to improve offensively. If he can figure out a way to put up a .260/.360/.440 line and stay at a premium defensive position that's a pretty valuable player -- I'm just not sure he can ever make enough good contact to put up that kind of ISO.