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I just got home from Target Field. I took my soon-to-be-four-year-old daughter to the game and we had a really great time. The highlight was the absolute blast by Michael Cuddyer, a three run homer that gave the Twins a 4-0 lead. The other highlight was the second terrific game in a row for Wilson Ramos.
As you recall, as spring training went along, the biggest roster question involved the backup catcher. Should the team go with the defensive minded Drew Butera? Or should they go with top prospect Wilson Ramos? At the time, the answer was easy. Ramos only had 56 games above the A ball level.
Drew Butera was a slightly better defensive catcher, and at 26, we didn't care if he would play very little. We all knew that he wouldn't hit at all, and I don't think anyone should have realistically expected him to hit much at all. His defense, in my mind at least, has been as good as advertised. He does a good job of blocking pitches. He has done a very nice job working with pitchers and calling games. And he has a good arm. However, it is also possible that Butera's offense may be even worse than the hype. He was overmatched by AA and AAA pitchers, so it makes sense that he would really struggle with big league pitchers.
In my book, I have Ramos ranked as the team's #2 prospect, behind only Aaron Hicks. There was never any question about the talent of Wilson Ramos. No, I don't think anyone would expect him to notch four hits in his first Major League game. And even fewer people had predicted that he would have seven hits in his first two games. But there was never any questioning his bat. We all know that he can hit for average and should eventually hit for power, although nothing in his minor league record really indicates that. However, the scouting side of the game, where you look at his size and his swing, and it's pretty clear he has a ton of power potential.
But what has changed since the end of spring training? Yes, Wilson Ramos has started his big league career by going 7-9 (.778) through two games as the team's starting catcher. He has done an adequate job behind the plate. That is definitely making people forget that in his time at AAA Rochester, he hit just .179.
So depending on how long Joe Mauer is out, what are the Twins to do when he is able to come back? As I see it, they have four options, and I will briefly discuss each and then ask for your comments and thoughts on the situation.
Option #1 - Trade Joe Mauer - I mean, imagine what the Twins could do with an extra $22.5 million each year for nearly the next decade. I mean, Ramos is embarking upon a Hall of Fame caliber career, right? Think of what they could get in terms of prospects and who they could get in future free agency. For some reason, I see this option being quite unlikely.
Option #2 - Send Drew Butera to Rochester - This would mean, of course, that Wilson Ramos is the team's backup catcher. With Jim Thome and Jason Kubel around, Ramos would get very few games as the team's DH. He would likely play only slightly more than Butera has. Sure, he could take batting practice in the big leagues every day, and occasionally be a right-handed pinch hitter, but he would not play much. Unless there was a follow up transaction where the team dealt Delmon Young, Jason Kubel or Jim Thome, so that Ramos can play nearly daily, I just don't think this option makes much sense. You don't want to stunt the growth of prospects of this caliber.
Option #3 - Send Wilson Ramos back to Rochester - Again, unless Ron Gardenhire explains to Bill Smith exactly how he is going to find 10-15 plate appearances for Ramos each week, Smith should keep Ramos playing nearly every day in Rochester so if there is another time this season that Mauer needs some time off, Ramos can come up and be ready to contribute, as he has been this time. Obviously this is the option that makes the most sense to me. That said, when we get to late July and August, I would want Ramos to be on the roster and ready to play. There is no question that Ramos will be on the Twins rosters on August 31.
Option #4 - Trade Wilson Ramos - This option seems to be the one that a lot of people want. They look at how highly Ramos is thought of, and how he has played for two days and say that he is really helping his trade value. Well, first of all, every scout and general manager in baseball already knew how good Ramos was, and also, they are smart enough not to overreact to two excellent games at the start of a career. Legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons really got this topic going when he said that the Red Sox were very interested in acquiring the Twins catcher. Names like Daniel Bard and Clay Buchholz came to mind. Some want to add a piece to the 2010 roster that can hopefully put the Twins over the top, not only in the AL Central, but in the American League. My assumption, however, is that no player that the Twins could acquire in exchange for Ramos would be better for the Twins than Ramos. Also, Ramos can be very good for the Twins for at least the next six years. That should not be overlooked.
So, what do I think? My opinion is that you just role with the original plan. When Mauer comes back, you let Ramos go back to Rochester and continue to improve by playing nearly every day. Butera spells Mauer once every eight or nine games. The wild card to the scenario is Jose Morales. If he is not going to debut with the Twins until the end of May, he should be put on the 60 day disabled list. That would open up a spot for Anthony Slama to be added to the 40 man roster and called up to the Twins. But when Morales is back, it will be easier to justify giving Mauer more time off, but is that really a good thing? If Mauer gets hurt and misses any time in the future again, Ramos will again be ready. Either way, I would promote Ramos before the August 31 deadline for postseason rosters.
Ramos is such a great prospect that he is one you make room for. When the team deemed Joe Mauer ready (having spent just a half-season at AA), they traded All-Star AJ Pierzynski. Ramos is a similar player (without Mauer's ability to walk... ok, without most players ability to walk), and the Twins will have to make a tough roster decision this offseason to find a spot for Ramos in the starting lineup starting in 2011.
I have spelled it out several times in the last two years or more, but I would love to see a scenario in which Joe Mauer catches 110 games a season and Ramos catches about 52 games. In most of the games Mauer catches, I would like to see Ramos DH. And in the games Ramos catches, Mauer could DH. Because there are two players accounting for two starting positions, then Gardenhire can still have Jose Morales on the roster as the backup catcher. However, to make such a scenario possible in 2011, Jim Thome will likely not be back and either Delmon Young or Jason Kubel would have to be traded.
Listen, I am as excited as anyone about Wilson Ramos. I have been very high on him for over three years. I think his potential is remarkable. I also believe that the best thing for his growth and development, as a 22-23 year old, is to play. Drew Butera and Jose Morales are already 26-27 years old, they are what they are and that is just fine in a backup role. But Ramos can be so much more, and it would be unfortunate if they didn't let him develop properly.
We would love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to comment.
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