Ramirez emerging from the shadows

Ramirez emerging from the shadows

Ramirez emerging from the shadows
PEORIA, Ariz. -- In a Mariners training camp where the looming shadow of young pitching prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker looms large, a little guy with a big smile is flying quietly under the radar.

Erasmo Ramirez, a 21-year-old right-hander from Nicaragua, is sometimes mentioned along with the young guns, but almost always after the aforementioned trio of top Draft picks, all of whom are among MLB.com's Top 100 prospects for 2012.

Ramirez stands about 5-foot-10, a good six inches shorter than the Big Three. He wasn't drafted at all, having signed as an international free agent with the Mariners in 2007 as a 17-year-old.

But having risen rapidly through the Minor League system, the youngster certainly belongs in that elite group of hurlers who represent the bright light for the club's future.

"No doubt," Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said at the start of camp. "I saw him in Low A ball when I first came here as coordinator. He's a plus strike thrower, He's deceptive because of his size, with the velocity he can get. He creates some angle. He has such a good feel for his secondary stuff for a young kid.

"I think he's going to be a surprise," Willis said. "Even though people have written and read and heard so many great things about him, I think there are going to be people here -- including maybe Eric [Wedge] -- who haven't seen him physically and are going to think he doesn't look the part. But then you see it and it's a little bit of a surprise. He has a chance to be a good one."

Wedge has now taken in two Ramirez bullpen throwing sessions in the first week of camp and indeed likes what he's seen.

"Impressive," Wedge said. "I like the way he stays in his delivery. He stays in that slot. The ball really comes out of his hand and he's got good stuff. And you can tell there is a competitiveness there, an edge, that you have to like. He's a young man that has really come along fast and performed. I'm excited to see him. I hadn't seen him before, but he's somebody that I'm glad is in camp because he's right in the mix with everybody."

That is music to the ears of Ramirez, who went 7-6 with a 4.73 ERA in 19 starts with Double-A Jackson and 3-2 with a 5.10 ERA in seven starts for Triple-A Tacoma, all at the ripe young age of 21. Most impressive was his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 116-to-41 in 152 innings.

Ramirez is several years younger than either Hultzen or Paxton, who both went the college route, but has more Minor League experience and time in pro ball. So he's certainly in the mix when it comes to youngsters the team will look to promote at some point this coming season.

"I'm pretty excited," Ramirez said. "This is the opportunity everybody wants. I tried to find a spot in the Seattle rotation, but you've got a lot of guys over here. You never know what's going to happen, but all I can say is I'm going to keep working. The general manager and manager and everybody are going to make a decision and say who is going to stay or not, so my only worry is just to take every opportunity they give me."

Ramirez throws a fastball in the low-90s with good control and backs it up with a solid changeup and curve. He's adding a cutter to the mix, knowing a fourth pitch can only help.

And while he doesn't cut the imposing figure of his 6-foot-4 teammates Paxton and Walker or the 6-3 Hultzen, he brings his own presence to the mound.

"I know I'm smaller than the other guys, but always I try to keep working on my shoulder and elbow to keep getting stronger," he said. "I don't say, 'All right, I'm going to throw 95, I'm going to throw 96 miles an hour.' I say, 'Today I'm going to work on my command.' If I throw to the right spots, I'll get outs that way."

Ramirez proved that by going 2-1 with a 1.48 ERA in six starts in the Venezuelan Winter League, with 20 strikeouts and just one walk in 30 1/3 innings. That's the kind of stuff that brings a smile to the Mariners faces, which matches the constant beam coming from Ramirez himself.

Nobody in Mariners camp seems to be enjoying himself more than Ramirez.

"You have to have fun and just enjoy baseball," he said. "You're going to have days when you feel sad, mad, want to kill somebody because he made a mistake or you made it and you want to kill yourself. But that day just makes you stronger. If you're going to pitch in the high levels, you have to learn how to control that emotion.

"Last year, I had the worst experience in my life, four innings in two games when I gave up like 11 runs [at Double-A Jackson]. I felt like, all right, baseball isn't working for me. But the next day I came back to the field and said, 'OK, they kicked my butt. So I'm going to work harder than before and see if the next game will be the same.' And right now, I feel great."

And if and when he does make the Major Leagues?

"Well, that's my dream since I signed and went to the Venezuela Summer League [in '08]," he said. "I had to get out of there and come to the USA and show everybody what I can do. Now I have the chance and I'm going to work hard and make it a difficult decision for everybody.

"For me, the good news is if they want a starter, a reliever, I like both. Whatever they want. The thing is the chance. I'm just looking for an opportunity."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.