MEXICALLI, MEXICO—A pair of Minnesota Twins prospects tuned up for the 2009 season as key members of the Caribbean Series champions Venezuela.
Wilson Ramos was ranked as the Twins number three prospect this off-season. The 21-year-old catcher followed a strong season (.288/.346/.434) at Class A Fort Myers with an impressive season (.317/331/.475).
Sharing catching duties with veteran Alex Delgado during the Series, Ramos was one of Venezuela's offensive stars in their five victories, batting .385 in 13 at bats while also drawing four walks. He reached base four times in the title clinching game against Mexico Friday night.
The time spent around more veteran players this winter has really helped Ramos' development, especially his skills behind the plate.
"Alex Delgado, the other catcher, he's got a lot of innings in winter ball," said Ramos. "I talk a lot with him. He helped me a lot."
Ramos' performance this winter has him eager to get started with spring training, as he'll be heading to the Twins' big league camp. What happens after spring training remains to be seen.
"I want to play hard in spring training in big league camp," said Ramos. "The team said I will start in Double-A but I don't know what happens after spring training. Joe Mauer (Twins regular catcher who is still recovering from a kidney surgery) is not ready right now, so I have a big opportunity to play in the big leagues this year."
Ramos is also hoping that he gets the opportunity to be part of the Venezuela team in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Considering how he's played this winter, he's shown that he can play a key role given the opportunity.
Ramos isn't the only notable Twins prospect on the Venezuelan team. 25-year-old right-handed pitcher Yohan Pino struggled in his two Caribbean Series appearances, both against the Dominican Republic, but overall had a good winter league season. Pino was 1-0, 3.38 in 16 regular season innings for Aragua, which helps make his 0-0, 10.12 stats in two Caribbean Series appearances a little less painful.
"He's got a plus major league curveball and average to above sinker," said Aragua pitching coach Tom Pratt. "His fastball is in the low 90s. It gets up on the hitters real quick because of his curveball '¦ He's very, very promising."
Like most young players in winter ball, this season has been a valuable learning experience for Pino.
"It helped him with the consistency of seeing better hitters," said Pratt, "good hitters every time out, and the ability to really fine tune his pitches. (He was) pitching ahead in the count, locating down and changing eye levels."
"He might have a shot at Triple-A (Rochester) with Minnesota," continued Pratt.