February 15, 2012 at 7:28 AM
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Team: Did not pitch
2012 Projected Team: Lowell Spinners
Opening Day Age: 18
Strengths: Kukuk has an athletic body and a frame that can add more weight, especially in his lower half. He generates easy velocity via a smooth, balanced delivery. Kukuk’s fastball sits 91-93 MPH and can touch up to 95 MPH when he reaches back. Showing late, arm side tail and downward finish, his heater runs away from right-handed batters or jumps on the hands of lefties. He hides his fastball during his delivery and hitters tend to be late given the velocity. Kukuk also features an 81-83 MPH slider. With tight, hard break, the offering disappears sharply out of the strike zone when he snaps it off and stays on top of the ball. This offering should evolve into his go-to out pitch and one with which he looks to pick up swings-and-misses. It has the makings of a plus pitch at his disposal. Given the loose nature of how he throws, Kukuk does not expend extra energy during his delivery. With natural physical maturation, he should develop the stamina necessary to stick as a starting pitcher and be able to go deeper into games as he does not wear himself out or strain to create his velocity. Kukuk has the ceiling of a second or third starter at the major league level.
Development Needs: Kukuk can struggle with his fastball command, mostly because he tends to release the heater early in his delivery. He arches his back and will land too soon, causing the ball to come out of his hand high. This drives his fastball to sail up and out of the strike zone. Kukuk needs work repeating the optimal timing of his delivery and locking into a consistent arm slot. Early in his career, he is most likely going to show stretches of wildness due to this and will have to learn how to recognize when he is out of whack so he can correct himself. Kukuk is also in the early stages of learning to throw a changeup. It presently looks more like a fastball he is taking something off of. Gaining feel for this pitch through repetition is important for him to expand his repertoire. Kukuk must first find trust in this offering so he can start to work it into sequences against opposing batters. The progress he makes with this pitch over the next couple years of his career will be a strong factor as to whether he continues to project on the path of a starting pitcher.
2012 Outlook: Kukuk did not pitch professionally in 2011 until the Fall Instructional League. While he showed solid, raw stuff, he looks most likely to stay back in Extended Spring Training and then start his first pro season with the Lowell Spinners. This assignment will be good for Kukuk to ease into game action and allow him to continue working on repeating his arm slot to enhance his fastball command in an instructional environment. Early progress in Extended Spring Training can show during the season in the New York-Penn League. Kukuk has the stuff to be ahead of the hitters and if he is throwing strikes he can get solid results. The inexperienced hitters tend to be overmatched by pure stuff and also tend to miss a lot of pitches. The area to focus in on is where he is placing his fastball. Consistently living down in the zone is a good sign that Kukuk is starting to finish better out of his delivery. Fewer instances of wildness are also positive markers that he is not landing too early. I feel his changeup will continue to show as a below-average offering during the season, but as the year goes along it should start to mix more and more into sequences. 2012 is a year for Kukuk to begin polishing his stuff and get used to the routine of a professional starting pitcher. By the end of the year, he should prove to be ready for his first full-season placement with Greenville in 2013 and also begin to push as a rising young arm within the Red Sox system.
2011 Team: Greenville Drive
2011 Projected Team: Greenville Drive/Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 19
Strengths: A converted soccer player, Ramos has shown a quick transition to playing professional baseball and earned a promotion to A-Ball out of Extended Spring Training in 2011. Bolstered by a powerful, athletic frame, he unleashes a smooth swing from both sides of the plate. Ramos generates above-average batspeed and can drive balls hard on a line with backspin. His raw power grades as plus and he has the swing path to produce 20-25 home runs as his hitting skills develop. Ramos’ swings from both sides of the plate are mechanically sound. He has the hit tool to also be able to produce the contact of an average-to-solid-average hitter for batting average. He covers the outside corner of the plate well when hitting left-handed and can get the head of the bat on pitches in tougher spots. Ramos has the defensive ability to play all three outfield slots presently and slots in as a corner outfield as his body fills out more. His plus arm profiles well in right field. He has the ceiling of a regular right fielder at the major league level, with the potential to hit fifth or sixth in a deeper lineup.
Development Needs: As expected, Ramos’ overall game is raw. He struggles to pick up secondary offerings, especially curveballs and sliders in the dirt. He is also very aggressive at the plate, lacking a plan of attack and the confidence to hit with a strike or two on him. Ramos typically goes up to the plate looking to hack at the first fastball he sees. Once behind in the count, he becomes defensive due to his lack of comfort seeing breaking balls and leaves himself prone to fastballs because he is hesitating with his swing. Ramos has very good batspeed, but gets behind fastballs when he is trying to protect against off-speed stuff. He can also lunge across the plate too much and allow higher velocity fastballs to eat him up on the inner third. Developing plate discipline will be necessary for Ramos to allow his natural hit tool to produce consistent, hard contact. His pitch recognition should improve with experience, but it will take dedication to learn to sit back more on offerings. Ramos is also still learning to slow the game down, especially defensively. He can rush or be over-zealous in the outfield when tracking flyballs. His reads can also be rough.
2012 Outlook: The organization was aggressive with Ramos last season and he surprised by sticking with Greenville for the entire season after his promotion in late May. Spring Training will be a factor, but he could likely use a return assignment to the South Atlantic League to continue honing his pitch recognition and plate discipline. A year more experienced, Ramos has a better foundation for understanding how to work to get ahead in the count. Improvement with this area of his game will lead to stronger overall contact for him in 2012. Most, if not all, of his offensive progression is tied into this aspect. Ramos can also begin to show more game power with rising contact rates. He has the ability to drive balls with very good backspin and getting better wood on offerings will lead to more instances of hitting drives with carry. Ramos will still show patches of inconsistency in 2012, but I feel he has the chance to make strong strides this season. He has shown to be highly coachable and displays a solid work ethic, in addition to his aforementioned tools. Ramos is an intriguing prospect to follow within the Red Sox organization and one that can show how the depth in the lower levels is starting to come into their own in 2012.
Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen