James Ramsey's pro baseball career has taken the express lane since the 23-year-old outfielder was selected by the Cardinals in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2012 draft. The four-year Florida State product went immediately to the high Class A level for his pro debut and then spent most of his first full season in 2013 in Double-A before finishing the year with one game in Triple-A.
Thus it's not surprising that Ramsey finds himself as one of the Cardinals representatives in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.
The AFL has a long-established reputation as the "finishing school" for baseball's top prospects. Ramsey, who takes a very cerebral approach to the game, should feel right at home during the upcoming six-week season. Ask him his goals for his stint in Arizona and Ramsey replies with a detailed and thoughtful explanation.
"Mentally, my approaches have been pretty decent," Ramsey explained. "I think my physical execution of those approaches could be better at times. So having this six-week process against a lot of great pitchers and great players–really, I'm just here to learn, be a sponge, talk to guys that have been successful in areas that I want to be successful in."
Ramsey is coming off a strong season in which he hit a combined .265/.373/.440 between the high Class A, Double-A, and Triple-A levels. Most importantly, Ramsey silenced the doubters who wondered whether he would develop enough power to become a well-rounded hitter at the big league level. After going deep just once in his first pro season, the lefthanded hitter smacked 16 homers in 2013. Ramsey attributes his work with Double-A Springfield manager Mike Shildt and hitting coach Phillip Wellman for the increase in over the fence pop.
"There were some mechanical adjustments to make just to quiet everything down … to quiet my lower half, to work on using my top hand more to get on top of the ball … just some things, more so stance-wise, just to kind of feel more comfortable, feel like I'm a little more upright, and it definitely paid dividends in the power side of things," he said.
Shildt, who will again manage Ramsey in the AFL as the skipper of the Salt River Rafters, wasn't surprised by the power surge he saw during the regular season.
"It was a combination of things," Shildt said. "James has some raw power. You watch this guy take BP and he'll launch some balls. The power's always been in there. It was really just a matter of him getting under control. He had a lot of moving parts … He got to understand to just slow everything down, improve his balance to make more consistent contact, and the ball started jumping off his bat."
His game isn't just about driving the ball out of the park–not by a long shot. Ramsey prides himself on his all-around game, with above-average speed and an aggressive approach that allows his tools to play up in the outfield and on the bases.
Ramsey also brings a reputation as being a team leader, going back to his college days when he was the first Seminole to wear the captain's "C" on his uniform. It's a trait that gives Ramsey carries with pride, but he also acknowledges that being a leader in the professional game is different from the "rah rah" atmosphere of high school or college.
"I don't have to show up every day and tell people I want to lead them," Ramsey said. "I think I go about my business in a blue collar way and live my life the way it seems to have others ask questions about what I do and my beliefs … My teammates know they're going to get the best of me every day when I show up at the park, and that's something that I hope will continue on into the next levels."
Shildt acknowledged that Ramsey's type of leadership is something the Cardinals organization values in all of their players.
"He's a fine young man, a stand-up guy, a very solid Christian and just the kind of guy we look forward to him leading himself," Shildt said, "but also lead by example and eventually be able to lead through being more vocal."
Ramsey also had a reputation during his four years at Florida State of being involved in community service. He was already delving into similar opportunities here within days after arriving in Arizona.
"I love just being around people and spending time," Ramsey said. "I'm getting plugged into different organizations that I'm looking forward to doing some of the community service outlets that they have out here."
ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE NOTES
• The newest Arizona Fall League franchise is the Glendale Desert Dogs, with the former Phoenix team being relocated across town to the Camelback Ranch facility, spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. In addition, the Peoria Javelinas will be based temporarily at Surprise Stadium while renovations are completed to their home park at the Peoria Sports Complex.
• This year's AFL managerial lineup includes: Glendale Desert Dogs – Jeff Smith (Twins), Mesa Solar Sox – Bill Richardson (Angels), Scottsdale Scorpions – Russ Morman (Giants), Peoria Javelinas – Jim Pankovits (Mariners), Salt River Rafters – Mike Shildt (Cardinals) and Surprise Saguaros – Gary Kendall (Orioles).
• The Arizona Fall League will host the first Bowman Hitting Challenge on Saturday, October 12 at Salt River Fields. One AFL player from each MLBl organization will compete in a unique hitting skills contest that will award points for home runs as well as hitting on-field targets with both batted and bunted balls.