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February 25, 2013 at 6:49 AM

2013 Prospect Previews: Noe Ramirez and Dan Butler

Position: Pitcher
2012 Team: Greenville Drive
2013 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 23

Strengths: Ramirez is an intelligent pitcher on the mound who has a firm understanding of how he needs to execute his craft. The right-hander also does a good job staying level regardless of the situation. Ramirez’s best pitch is an 81-84 mph changeup, with strong depth and finish. The change can show bottom-dropping action or arm-side fade depending on how much the pitcher turns it over. Ramirez is extremely deceptive when throwing the pitch, seamlessly matching both the arm speed and release point from which he throws his fastball. The offering presently grades as solid-average to plus and has bat-missing ability. Overall, the 23-year-old has solid-average command of the entire arsenal. His smooth, efficient delivery allows him to effectively finish his pitches, and throw a lot of strikes in the process. Ramirez effectively pounds the strike zone with his fastball, while also demonstrating the ability to drop the change in for a strike to keep hitters guessing.

Development Needs: Ramirez walks a fine line with his fastball. Sitting 89-91 mph when working as a starter, the pitch needs to consistently operate in the lower tier of the strike zone to be effective. The righty has to be extremely selective when elevating it above the mid-thighs, where the offering can be flat and lack late life. As Ramirez progresses into the upper minors, his command is going to be strongly tested in a starter’s role. He’s the type of pitcher who is around the plate and gives up a lot of contact with the heater. His other secondary offering, a slider, lags behind the changeup. The pitch presently isn’t very tight and tends to hang within the strike zone. Ramirez is inconsistent producing the type of late bite that will get more advanced hitters to chase the pitch. Without a look that changes the angle, both his fastball and change become more predictable multiple times through a lineup. Overall, Ramirez’s profile points towards a projection as a bullpen arm.

2013 Outlook: Ramirez will take the next step up the ranks this season and continue his development in the Carolina League. This assignment will be a good test of how his fastball command is trending, along with continuing the work to stretch him out in a starter’s role and build stamina. Given Ramirez’s level of polish, I see him having a relatively easy time making the adjustment to the step up in competition, but there will be refinement necessary over the course of the year to limit the amount of contact he gives up against the more advanced hitters. The right-hander should be able to post consistent results over the long haul of the 2013 season at this level. Most of Ramirez’s work will center on sharpening his arsenal as much as possible before taking the next step up to Double-A. It will be here that he’ll endure his biggest challenge as a professional, with that test beginning either later in the summer this season or in 2014.

Position: Catcher
2012 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs/Pawtucket Red Sox
2013 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 26

Strengths: Butler is an advanced defensive catcher, whose leadership skills and aptitude for the game have come to the forefront over the last couple of seasons. The backstop moves well behind the plate, flashing quick feet, strong lateral movements, and the type of reflexes to adjust quickly to pitches that are off target. His defense presently grades as solid-average. Butler also demonstrates plus arm strength and improving throwing mechanics. He has become less tangled when popping out of his crouch in recent seasons, improving his throwing accuracy in the process. Offensively, he features a low maintenance swing and excels against offerings out-and-over the plate. Butler drives offerings well when he can get his arms extended and the head of the bat out to the ball. The right-handed hitter also brings a relaxed, patient approach to the plate, often grinding through plate appearances by not being afraid to take a strike or two before getting a pitch he likes.

Development Needs: Butler’s hitting ability is on the limited side. The bat speed grades as about average, which leaves him with a smaller margin of error when dealing with the advancing competition of the upper minors. Butler has a tough time getting his hands above the ball when trying to attack offerings above the thighs and also struggles with higher velocity fastballs on the inner-third. There are spots that higher-quality arms can exploit against him. Butler’s hit tool projects as below-to-fringe-average, with some questions as to how much solid contact he can make and whether there’s enough hitting ability to be more than a .230s hitter. While his defensive game has made a lot of strides and is a strength, the 26-year-old still needs some work with his game calling skills. Butler falls into ruts of being very predictable when calling games, often leaning on the same series of offerings in sequences or calling ones in the exact same situations multiple times through a lineup. Overall, he projects as an up-and-down player, who could slide into a backup role in the right situation, likely with a second division team.

2013 Outlook: Butler finished off the 2012 season in Triple-A and is set to return to the level to continue to put the finishing touches on his overall game in 2013. At this point, much of his development is centered on the finer points of the game. Butler is likely to handle the catching duties in a rotation at Pawtucket, with it being important for him to make the most of his opportunity and show that he has the potential to help at the major league level in some capacity. The catcher presently serves as organizational depth this season, but enters the year lower on the depth chart. I don’t expect him to play much of a part, unless the catching corps is decimated with injuries over the course of 2013. Butler is tasked with proving he is deserving of a major league look and can also showcase his skills to other organizations given that catching is at a premium across baseball. It’s likely that the catcher provides insurance for the organization for the entire season, but he could be included in a deal to help the big club shore up other areas of need later in the year.

Photo Credits: Noe Ramirez and Dan Butler by John Corneau

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen