Neil Ramirez lit up the radar gun during his rather impressive rookie season. Ramirez made 50 appearances for Rick Renteria out of the Cubs pen and was 3-3 with a 1.44 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 2.61 FIP.
Ramirez regularly hit the upper-90s with his fastball and struck out 53 batters with 17 walks, two home runs and 29 hits allowed in 43 2/3 innings. Ramirez also picked up three saves while showing that he could pitch the ninth inning.
Ramirez was mainly used as a starter during his time in Rangers’ system. The Cubs thought the best way to keep him off the DL and utilize his talents was in short stints out of the bullpen. Ramirez proved the Cubs were right what is now two seasons ago.
Last spring Ramirez figured heavily into the Cubs’ plans for the bullpen. But his velocity was down early when the Cactus League games started. Ramirez was not able to get on track last year despite breaking camp on the 25-man roster. Ramirez pitched in only 19 games for Joe Maddon and was 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 3.21 FIP. Ramirez struck out 15 batters with six walks, one home run and 12 hits allowed in 14 innings.
Needless to say a healthy Neil Ramirez would give the Cubs another power arm and a boost to the back of the bullpen. Ramirez said he is healthy. This spring he is taking it slow while continuing to build his arm strength. Ramirez worked on building up his shoulder in the off-season and did not throw a baseball as early as he usually does.
Ramirez told ESPN Chicago over the weekend he knows “the competition for bullpen spots will be intense.” Ramirez said to Jesse Rogers that he will “let things come to him instead of trying to force his velocity back up into the high-90s.” Ramirez may have to learn how to pitch and be effective in the big leagues with the low-90s fastball he had last season.
According to the Tribune, Ramirez has not been pitching a lot off a mound. The Cubs know Ramirez is building his strength slowly and are “on board with everything.”
Ramirez told Mark Gonzales, “They just want me to feel good and be healthy. In these first few weeks, I’m going to be building strength. The mound time and the volume off the mound if where we’re going to work on.”
Ramirez started a weight program shortly after the Cubs season ended. He’s thrown “four bullpen sessions up to 25 pitches” according to the Tribune. And he explained to Mark Gonzales, “There’s a balance between trying to get back too quickly and do too much and feel like you’re getting lost out there. So it was tough, but it’s behind me. I learned a lot from last year. I learned to pitch without having my best stuff, which was frustrating at times. But you do what you have to do. You can’t complain about it.”
Having Ramirez take his time this spring building up his shoulder strength could benefit the Cubs in the long run. Ramirez is out of minor league options and it’s highly unlikely he would pass through waivers. If Ramirez is not able to get ready for the season this spring he could always be held back in extended Spring Training and continue working his way back.
The best case scenario for Neil Ramirez and the Cubs would be for him to be back to where he was in 2014 and make decisions very difficult for Joe Maddon, Chris Bosio and the front office.