It’s been six years since Yefry Ramírez was told his quickest path to the major leagues would mean putting his infield glove away and turning his career toward pitching.
At the time, Ramírez was a 17-year-old infielder who had just completed his first year of professional baseball in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system playing in the Dominican Summer League.
Ramírez’s trek from there to the majors wasn’t as quick as predicted — and it came with his third organization — but the Orioles believe they have an intriguing young pitcher who could be a part of their future.
The Orioles like what they’ve seen of Ramírez since acquiring him from the New York Yankees in an under-the-radar deadline deal last July for international-signing-bonus slots. And ahead of his fourth major league start Saturday, against the Texas Rangers, the 24-year-old has shown he still has plenty of room to grow.
“I want to learn as much as possible,” Ramírez said through interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “I think there’s an opportunity to learn every single day, especially in baseball. There’s information all over the place. I want to learn as a pitcher from my teammates.”
Ramírez, who is 0-3 and has a 3.93 ERA in four appearances (three starts) this season, has impressed the Orioles with his composure and attention to detail on the mound, something manager Buck Showalter believes he got from his days as a position player.
“Sometimes it’s [like] that when you’ve played on the other side of the ball a little bit,” Showalter said. “When the game speeds up, he seems to be in control of himself well. You see him bounce off the mound. He’s really cognizant of runners. He seems to be aware of some game situations.”
“It definitely helps coming from a position player to a pitcher,” Ramírez said. “Obviously, you’re out there every single day. You have to be ready for every single pitch. That’s one of the characteristics why I’m calm. At the same time, I try to talk to myself and try to present myself to the best of my ability and make my pitches. If I make quality pitches, I know I will be able to get good results and I try to stay consistent with my approach.”
But when he signed with the Diamondbacks in 2011, he wanted no part of pitching. He chose to sign with Arizona because it was one of the few teams that wanted him to be an infielder.
“At the time, I thought to myself that I could make it as a position player, as a really good middle infielder,” he said. “I had offers to be a pitcher and I rejected them at that time.”
But Ramírez hit just .169 in his professional debut in the Dominican Republic, playing mostly third base. After noticing his live arm — his fastball hit the mid-90s — the Diamondbacks talked him into moving to the mound.
His willingness to embrace change has carried over in his pitching career. At the big league level, he’s taken every opportunity to seek advice from teammates and coaches.
“I think the biggest thing so far from my first start to the upcoming one is the fact that I’m learning from a lot of guys, from the veteran pitchers.” Ramírez said. “So far, I’ve received really good advice, really good suggestions, so I have more information.”
It wasn’t an easy switch for Ramírez, who couldn’t get out of rookie ball over the next four seasons with Arizona before the Yankees selected him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft after the 2015 season.
In New York’s system, he finally began to move up through the minors, and last season, he posted a 10-3 record with a 3.41 ERA in 18 starts with Double-A Trenton before the Yankees dealt him to create space on their 40-man roster at the trade deadline. The Orioles added Ramírez to the 40-man roster after the season.
“I would say that opportunity [here] is the biggest [difference],” Ramírez said. “The Yankees treated me really well, but there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity over there. Over here, I’ve noticed an opportunity, and an opportunity has been given to me, so I’m trying to take advantage of that.”
Ramírez came to the Orioles having established his changeup as a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch that complemented his fastball well, but he needed a third pitch to help him compete at the major league level. After his first call-up, Orioles pitching coach Roger McDowell introduced a new slider grip that has made a big difference.
While he’s thrown his slider just 64 times at the major league level, it has a whiff rate of 42.4 percent. With a similarly effective changeup (its whiff rate is 43.6 percent), he’s combined his off-speed pitches to miss bats.
“He seems to maintain his stuff,” Showalter said. “The shape of his slider is a lot better than it was. That’s really improved for a lot of reasons.”
Each game is a learning experience for Ramírez. And his former organization taught him a lesson in his last start, Game 2 of Monday’s doubleheader, as the Yankees tagged him for four runs over four innings, racking up nine hits and two walks.
“Consistency is one thing they’ve been preaching to me [here], just to be consistent with everything,” Ramírez said. “They are praising my changeup. They say it’s a really good pitch, a major league pitch, and to hit the corners, up and in, down and away, to stay in the corners and not leave anything in the middle of the plate.”