Biloxi Shuckers

Brewers prospect moves to the mound to bolster MLB odds

When Nick Ramirez wrapped up his standout college career at Cal State-Fullerton in 2011, he firmly believed his pitching days were over.

The left-hander was a star reliever for the Titans, registering 37 saves over three seasons.

However, it wasn’t his prowess on the mound that convinced the Milwaukee Brewers to draft him in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball draft in 2011. He hit 35 homers as a college first baseman and that’s where he spent his first six seasons as a pro.

“People used to ask me if I liked pitching and I’d say, ‘No, but I like to win,’” Ramirez said. “I finished games. I just wanted to win. If I’m the one that gives us the best chance to do that, give me the ball.”

In his seventh year as a pro, the 27-year-old Ramirez again finds the ball in his left hand.

Ramirez appeared in three contests out of the bullpen during the Biloxi Shuckers’ five-game series to open the season at Montgomery, Alabama. He has given up no earned runs on one hit, walked two and struck out none in 2 1/3 innings.

Making the change

Ramirez showed good pop with 93 homers as a pro, but he’s been a streaky hitter and his batting average dipped to .206 last season for the Shuckers.

With a shortage of left-handed pitchers in the Brewers’ organization and the knowledge of his success at Fullerton, team officials approached Ramirez about the potential of switching to the pitcher’s mound late in the 2016 season.

“I really didn’t know what to think about it,” he said. “I called my agent and spoke with him that night. He’s the one that convinced me to do it and go forward with it. Ever since then, I can’t say that I’m not happy about it.”

Biloxi pitching coach Chris Hook was the man tasked with getting Ramirez started in his transformation back to the pitcher’s mound last year.

It was an awkward process when Ramirez first toed the pitcher’s rubber.

“I felt like a position player throwing,” he said. “I was down here in the bullpen, down the line. Once I did that, I worked with Hook on getting my stride longer, working on my mechanics. We just repeated things over and over.”

Hook believes that Ramirez has been a quick study.

“He’s done an incredible job,” Hook said. “You’ve got a guy who has a little bit of experience, doing it in college. He has a good foundation. His delivery is clean. I think he has an idea of how to pitch. He knows what hitters can’t hit so he does a good job of knowing that via the at-bats he’s had. He’s done a really good job. His spring training went as well as you could imagine.”

As a left-handed hurler, Ramirez is part of a select group in the Brewers organization. He’s the only lefty on the Shuckers roster. There are four lefties at Triple-A Colorado Springs, but only one on the Brewers’ roster.

That lack of lefties makes Ramirez a valuable arm in the organization.

Better stuff

Even though he’s spent six seasons away from the pitcher’s mound, Ramirez is confident in his stuff. He feels that his offspeed options have significantly improved since his college days.

“My changeup has always been good,” Ramirez said. “I’m lucky my feel for that pitch didn’t go away. My curve and slider have obviously got better. I don’t know how it got better, but it did.”

Hook points to Ramirez’s changeup as his “plus pitch.”

“I think he’s got four pitches of quality,” Hook said. “He throws a fastball and can sink it a little. He commands it to the far side against left-handers. He’s got a good slider, curve ball and changeup.

“Being left-handed, all he has to do is execute the down-and-away fastball to left-handers a little more consistently. I think he’s going to be OK.”

Ramirez, who has a fastball in the low 90’s, will still get the occasional at-bat and see some time at first base, but pitching appears to be his best way to make a jump in the Brewers’ organization.

“Obviously, I’m aware that we don’t have much left-handed pitching in the organization,” he said. “I’m sitting in a good spot. I just have to go out and compete and just do what I can.”

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