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Low Class A Notebook
Compiled by J.J. Cooper

Despite his growing pains, Ramirez’ development has Red Sox thrilled

By Rob Mueller
April 24, 2003

Classification Notebooks
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AUGUSTA, Ga.–You grew up poor in a third-world nation and you suddenly have the world at your fingertips.

You’re blessed with the tools of a big league superstar and your earning potential could make you the next millionaire from Santo Domingo, D.R.

You’re the crown jewel of the Red Sox farm system, hailed as the next can’t-miss prospect for an organization that has produced too many busts and not enough booms.

You’re 19 and the eyes of Red Sox Nation scrutinize your every move. You’re shortstop Hanley Ramirez, and you’re flashing a big, bright smile as you horse around with a few of your Augusta GreenJackets teammates awaiting your turn in the batting cage.

You’re the hot prospect pictured on the cover of the team program, cornrows peeking out from underneath your green and purple cap. You’re the guy with the big No. 1 by your name in the Prospect Handbook.

Pitcher Aneudis Mateo points to the book and says something in Spanish. Your Latin teammates burst out in laughter. You flash another grin and shout back at Mateo. Then you embrace him with a hearty bear hug.

More laughter. More smiles. It’s Opening Day, and you immediately let your teammates know you not only can handle their teasing, but you can dish it out, too.

"These guys (are) crazy," said Ramirez, who rarely speaks what little English he knows. "They say crazy things."

Mr. Popularity

From relative obscurity, Ramirez has emerged as one of the most heralded prospects in baseball. He compiled huge numbers while putting on a show with his glove, bat and his legs last season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

Signed in July 2000 at age 16 after he showcased his talents at the Red Sox academy in the Dominican, Ramirez made his debut in 2001, hitting .345-5-34 in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. He arrived in the United States and attained blue-chip status. He batted .341-6-26 in the GCL, then hit .371 with 19 RBIs in 22 games after a promotion to short-season Lowell.

"It’s pretty apparent that Hanley is a talented young player that has the ability to play in the big leagues," farm director Ben Cherington said. "I can’t say that we knew that right away when we signed him. But it didn’t take long to realize Hanley had the chance to be special."

As excited as Cherington and the Red Sox remain as Ramirez begins his first full season, already there have been concerns that perhaps he became a little too good, a little too fast. At times last year, Red Sox officials regarded Ramirez as immature and sometimes selfish. He was sent home early from instructional league for disciplinary reasons.

After his early exit last fall, Ramirez immediately went back to work at Boston’s academy in the Dominican. He spent the offseason living in a dormitory at the facility and working on his game. He impressed the Red Sox with his commitment on and the field as he also made strides in his English classes in spring training.

"When I visited him this winter in the Dominican, you could see the difference in Hanley," Cherington said. "I believe there won’t be any concern with his behavior now. I think he is a good kid and will be a good kid."

Long Road To The Show

To foster Ramirez’ growth, the Red Sox sent former big league shortstop and Latin American field coordinator Nelson Norman to Augusta, where he has taken Ramirez under his wing.

Still, the teenager sometimes takes over. Augusta manager Russ Morman benched him in the ninth inning of a game against Capital City. He wouldn’t say why, though Cherington indicated it was a minor issue.

"There’s a lot of attention on Hanley, and everything he does is magnified," Cherington said. "If it was another player, it probably wouldn’t have even been noticed. You’re talking about a 19-year-old kid in his first full season of baseball. We’re very happy with Hanley’s work ethic. He’s no different than anyone else."

Early in the season Ramirez was batting .291-0-7 with 11 strikeouts in 55 at-bats. He had committed a team-high five errors.

Red Sox officials say they are pleased with his work ethic and with the way he’s matured "He goes out and plays the game like it’s supposed to be played," Morman said. "He’s being a positive influence out there."

Some scouts say he could be ready for the majors by 2005. But Ramirez is still so raw, the Red Sox won’t put a timetable on his path to Fenway.

"Yes, it’s very gratifying for all of us to see Hanley develop," Cherington said. "But it would really be unfair and inappropriate to wait on Hanley’s development as far as the success of our organization goes. There’s still a long, long way to go."

Midwest Harvest

• The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers used a little roster sleight of hand to keep their pitching staff together during a rough 10-day stretch. The Timber Rattlers had a 15-inning game at Burlington, followed by a six-game, four-day series in Beloit, followed by an 11-inning game against Cedar Rapids.

The Rattlers received Dave Viane to get them another arm, which meant the team had 26 players in the clubhouse, even though the Midwest League roster limit is 25. To get around it, the Mariners swapped starters T.A. Fulmer and Bobby Livingston between the short-season Everett roster and the Wisconsin roster.

"We have a pitcher we need to have here just so we don’t hurt somebody else," Wisconsin manager Darren Brown told the Appleton (Wisc.) Post-Crescent. "That’s all it comes down to. We went through a lot of pitchers. And with the weather like it is here, you need to have that extra arm."

• You won’t find many times when a no-hitter is the second-most impressive feat in a game. On a day when Justin Jones, Weston O’Brien and Mark Carter combined for the first no-hitter in Lansing Lugnuts history, Lugnuts third baseman Donny Hood hit for the cycle.

Hood became the second Lugnut to do it, joining Corey Patterson, who did it in 1999. Hood hit a three-run homer to center in the eighth to cap the cycle. He went 4-for-4 with three runs and five RBIs.

The game’s start was delayed by 20 minutes because of rain, and the rain returned for an hour just after Hood’s homer. That allowed the drama to build for the no-hitter, as Carter came in to pitch a perfect ninth inning. Jones, an 18-year-old lefty, gave up four runs on five hits in four innings in his previous start, but he threw seven hitless innings, striking out eight and walking three to get the no-hitter started.

"What an adjustment he made from the last start," pitching coach Mike Anderson said. "He did everything we asked of him. You knew he was in control of the game."

O’Brien followed by pitching a hitless eighth and would have pitched the ninth, but the rain delay forced the Lugnuts to turn to Carter.

The Lugnuts, with a bevy of pitching prospects, left the game with a 1.95 ERA, best in low Class A. They had allowed 69 hits in 101 innings. Lefthander Andy Sisco led the way, as he was 2-0, 0.49 after four starts.

• The Silver Hawks and the city of South Bend have signed a three-year extension to their lease, ensuring that the team will remain in South Bend through at least 2005.

"We're delighted this process has come to a conclusion," Silver Hawks owner Alan Levin told the South Bend Tribune. "South Bend will be home of the South Bend Silver Hawks for as long as we have control of the ownership."

Under the new lease, the Silver Hawks will pay $150,000 in rent a year, with the city also receiving a percentage of ticket sales.

Sallymanders

• What was expected to be one of the better pitching matchups of the early season in the Sally League didn’t materialize. Don’t blame Rome’s Kyle Davies, as he pitched five no-hit innings to pick up the win. But Capital City lefthander Scott Kazmir had his second straight rough start, giving up four hits and two earned runs in 213 innings.

Kazmir didn’t make it through the third inning in any of his first three starts as he battled control trouble on his way to a 0-1, 4.50 record. While he struck out 12 in six innings and held opponents to a .238 average, he walked seven and threw four wild pitches.

On the other hand, Davies got off to an almost perfect start with the Braves. While his performance against Kazmir was his best start so far, his others were pretty good. Davies was 2-0, 0.48, striking out 30 while walking 12 in 19 innings. Most impressive, Davies had allowed three hits.

• While Davies was dominating, he was trailing an old teammate in the strikeout race. Merkin Valdez, Davies’ teammate in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season, led the minors with 36 strikeouts. In 22 innings, Valdez had walked two batters, although pitch counts and poor run support left his record at 1-0, 2.01. Valdez, who was known as Manuel Mateo as a Brave, went to the Giants with Damian Moss in the trade for Russ Ortiz. He struck out 12 batters in his first start, and followed by striking out eight in each of his next three starts.

• Quietly, the pitcher with the most impressive start in the Sally League was the Riverdogs Scott Autrey. Autrey, the Devil Rays’ seventh-round pick out of North Carolina last season, did not allow a run in his first three starts, as he went 2-0, 0.00 in 18 innings. He struck out 17 while walking two.

• On the other end of the spectrum, Lexington Legends DH Steven Checksfield would like to forget his start to the season. Checksfield struck out in 12 consecutive games, as he went 7-for-42 with 20 strikeouts.

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