Rangers prospect in position to excel

Rangers prospect in position to excel

FRISCO, Texas -- Highly regarded catcher Max Ramirez started at first base for Double-A Frisco on Wednesday night. The move was only temporary.

By Thursday, he was back at catcher and that's where the Rangers plan to keep him even though there is a logjam at the position within the organization. What the Rangers really know about Ramirez is if he keeps tearing up the Texas League and beyond, they'll find a spot for him somewhere. His terrific start at Frisco has been one of the early-season highlights within their farm system.

"He's our catcher, it just makes him a more valuable guy being able to play first base," Frisco manager Scott Little said. "He's our catcher, he's a catcher and he's going to continue to be a catcher."

There's no doubt that Ramirez has a Major League bat. The only uncertainty is what position will allow Ramirez, in an organization stocked with catchers, to play at the big league level. Now in his fourth season behind the plate, Ramirez is working on elevating his defense to the same level as his offense so that catching remains the No. 1 option for him.

"I don't think there's any question that Max can hit in the big leagues. I don't think that's ever been a question mark," Frisco hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh said. "His bat's going to take him wherever he's going to go. The big question mark is: Is he going to be able to catch every day or is he going to be a multi-position guy?"

Acquired last July from the Indians for Kenny Lofton, Ramirez is in his first full season in the Rangers' organization. With an idea of what he wants to do every time he steps to the plate and an ability to adjust to pitchers throughout games, he's been tearing the cover off the ball for Double-A Frisco.

His .374 average is second best in the Texas League and, with Chris Davis' promotion, Ramirez's 12 home runs are tied for tops in the league. His on-base plus slugging percentage is a hearty 1.128 and he's been named Texas League Player of the Week twice already this season.

"I've been working with my hitting coach to stay inside the ball, to hit the ball to the middle of the field," Ramirez said. "What I try to do is stay back and hit the ball to the middle. If you're prepared, your swing is going to be OK in the game."

These numbers haven't come out of nowhere considering Ramirez hit .304 with 16 home runs in 109 combined games at Class A Kinston, in the Indians organization, and Bakersfield.

But with Taylor Teagarden catching at Triple-A Oklahoma and catchers Gerald Laird and Jarrod Saltalamacchia up with the Rangers, there doesn't seem to be much wiggle room for the 23-year-old Ramirez to ascend through the system any time soon as a backstop.

"Offensively, he could easily be at Triple-A, but we just don't want him and Teagarden in the same spot," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "From a development standpoint, they could both use regular playing time."

Signed originally as a third baseman by the Braves in 2004, Ramirez has experience out from behind the plate and he feels confident in his abilities at both first and third base. Although Daniels said Ramirez would continue to see occasional action at first base, there are no immediate plans to permanently strip Ramirez of his catching gear.

Instead, Ramirez has received guidance from Rangers director of player development and former Major League catcher Scott Servais.

"He worked with me a lot in Spring Training blocking balls and throwing to second," Ramirez said. "I feel like right now I'm the best I've been at blocking and throwing."

That may be, but the numbers show Ramirez's throwing skills are still lacking. He is second to last in the Texas League as opposing baserunners have a .735 success rate stealing off him.

Little says Ramirez needs to improve in every area -- "receiving, throwing, blocking and game-calling" -- as a catcher. Areas in which, Little points out, every catcher in baseball is trying to improve.

Which is just one more reason Ramirez is being tested at first base.

"At the upper levels, some of what we try to do is move guys around a little bit and just create some versatility for them," Daniels said. "When they do get up here, they've got more ways for Ron [Washington] to possibly get them in the lineup."

Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.