The Detroit Tigers won the division last year, so maybe it’s by design that the Twins are bringing so many former Tiger players into camp. Casey Fien, Lester Oliveros, and Joel Zumaya have all played in Motown. Brendan Wise was a longtime Tiger minor leaguer, and Phil Dumatrait also spent a little time with the organization in 2010. This crop of former Tigers isn’t going to compete on the same level as Justin Verlander or Miguel Cabrera, but if the Twins want some free firsthand scouting reports they’ll have plenty of people to ask.
One more name on the list: Wilkin Ramirez. He’s a 26 year old, right-handed batting outfielder who played in 15 games for the Tigers in 2009, including a brief appearance as a pinch runner in the 8th innings of Game 163. Now he’s trying to find a spot on the team that beat him that day. He’ll be wearing jersey number 78 as a non-roster invitee for the Twins.
Ramirez grew up in Bani, Dominican Republic. He got some big league help growing up; Dominican star and fellow Bani native Miguel Tejada took Ramirez under his wing when the latter was a child. Tejada’s influence is evident if you watch Ramirez play or look at his numbers. Both players adopt the same “swing first, ask questions later” approach at the plate. Both have more than their share of power, too. That power was enough to attract the attention of the Tigers, who signed Ramirez as an international free agent in 2003. But power wasn’t all he offered. Ramirez was legitimately considered a five tool prospect who could run with blazing speed and hold his own in the field.
As a 19 year old in the Midwest League in 2005, Ramirez hit 16 homers. He stayed in double digits in minor league home runs every year since then, including 19 at AA in 2008 and 23 between AA and AAA in 2010. Power is not a problem for Ramirez. Making contact is. He has just 230 walks and a staggering 915 strikeouts (27.7% of his plate appearances) in his minor league career. In 2010 he whiffed 166 times in just 121 games. The lack of contact is probably what caused the Tigers to give up on Ramirez; they traded him to the Braves for cash in the summer of 2010.
Still, the potential is there if only Ramirez can mend his strikeout prone ways. He had an excellent 2008 season at AA, hitting .303/.371/.522 with 24 doubles and seven triples in addition to the 19 homers. And his first taste of the Majors went well in 2009 – he hit .364 in a handful of at bats. Ramirez is young enough that there is still a chance he can turn over a new leaf. The Twins system is not short on outfielders, though: Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Trevor Plouffe are all ahead of him on the depth chart. Ramirez looks likely to get some playing time for Rochester, and he could theoretically earn a late season call-up if he does well there.
Keep reading every day, because we still have seven more non-roster invitees to go. You can read about the previous 17 here.