Yordany Ramirez wasn’t making it as a hitter. Instead of releasing him, the Astros will see if he can join a club that includes Tim Wakefield, Jorge Sosa, and Jason Motte amongst others. These players became major league pitchers after beginning their careers as positional players.
In 2,491 career at-bats the Astros outfielder has compiled a .246/.277/.365 line with just 46 homeruns and 128 stolen bases. Translation: Not good.
The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Tim Wakefield in the 8th round in 1988 as a first baseman. Wakefield earned 256 at-bats in the lower minors and hit just .199 before trying his luck on the mound. Hearing you don’t have the skills to make at it at a position you’ve played your whole life can’t be an easy pill to swallow but it certainly worked out well. Wakefield developed a knuckleball and the rest is history as he’s now won 193 major league games over 18 seasons. While Wakefield isn’t a straight comparison to Ramirez as the former had a signature gimmick and the latter has much better arm strength, but the precedent has been set.
Jorge Sosa was signed as an outfielder in 1995 by the Rockies before breaking into the majors in 2001 as a reliever for the Tamp Bay then-Devil Rays. While he’s now a major league journeyman, Sosa has won 44 games in the majors with a 4.72 ERA.
Maybe the best comparison for Yordany Ramirez is Sergio Santos. Unlike Ramirez, Santos was a can’t miss hitting prospect at shortstop. But like Ramirez, one of his best traits was his strong throwing arm. The White Sox converted Santos to the mound in 2009 and he immediately showed the electric stuff Chicago brass had hoped would translate. Santos struck out 30 batters in 28.1 innings but walked 20. In 2010, he showed up to spring training with refined control and made the major league club as a long shot. But he won’t be a long shot ever again as he struck out 56 hitters in 51.2 innings over 53 games, good for a 2.96 ERA. Not bad for a rookie in his second season pitching.
While it’ s certainly unreasonable to expect Ramirez to turn into a 193-game winner or lights-out reliever, to think a strong arm in the field can’t be converted to the mound isn’t crazy. The Astros also seem quite intelligent when it comes to making these decisions. Brian Bogusevic was drafted as a pitcher and is now expected to make the major league roster as a 4th outfielder out of spring training in 2011 after proving one of the best minor league hitters in the system and earning a September call-up in 2010. Houston also has a pretty good track record with evaluating pitching talent. Roy Oswalt was a 23rd round pick, remember.
Yordany Ramirez got his first taste of pitching in a real game this past August for Single-A Lexington and he fared better than most given his situation. Albeit an incredibly small sample size, Ramirez struck out 7 over 5.2 innings while allowing 3 earned runs. He walked 5 and as with any player new to finding the strikezone, I imagine control will be the focus of his coaching and training this offseason. There’s no reason to be too optimistic yet, but I sure wouldn’t mind having the next Wakefield or Santos.