Value can come from anywhere. More than anything else, this is the edict of the David Stearns era in Milwaukee. For the past year and a half, Brewers fans have been privy to a magical world where minor league filler is flipped for major league assets and grizzled veterans become improbable trade chips. The waiver wire, meanwhile, has been exposed as the world’s greatest flea market, with Stearns strolling down the aisles like the grandmotherly bargain-hunter the Brewers never knew they needed.
Like any good bargain-hunter, Stearns likes to buy in bulk. On one hand, this is exciting. There’s a constant stream of new faces entering the organization at every level. But the acquisition volume is so high that even the most ardent follower is bound to miss a transaction or two. After all, the Brewers organization has undergone a sea of change in the last two years – it’s only natural that a few moves have disappeared into the greater talent pool, dissolving without a splash like so many drops in a bucket.
Several such transactions occurred last December 8. If fans remember the day at all, they remember it as the one in which Miguel Diaz went full fathom five to A.J. Preller and the San Diego Padres with the first pick of the Rule 5 Draft. But the Brewers actually commensurate bullpen talent that day. Right-handed pitcher Matt Ramsey, one of the club’s two selections in the draft’s minor lead phase, has every bit as much potential to make a splash for the Brewers as Diaz does for the Padres.
Don’t fret if the name doesn’t ring a bell. Ramsey isn’t under the radar so much as he’s off of it entirely. Like so many pitchers before him, Ramsey has his health to thank for that. The stout, 5’ 11” hurler missed all of the 2015 season with an undisclosed injury, and came back in time to work only 22.7 innings across three levels in the Miami Marlins organization in 2016. Now 27, the power righty is in the midst of his third year at Class-AA, and is pitching for his third club. That’s not a profile that’s likely to attract very much attention.
The results, though? The results demand attention. Over the course of his minor league career, Ramsey has worked to a glittering 2.12 ERA while striking out 10.6 batters per nine. His 2.53 ERA this year in Biloxi is a near-perfect match for his 2.51 DRA. Ramsey’s current WHIP of 1.22 is consistent with his career results, as he’s held Southern League batters to fewer than one hit per inning. His fastball runs into the mid-90s, and he pairs that pitch with a sharp curveball that generates plenty of swing-and-miss.
But then there’s the command. Ramsey’s BB/9 through small samples at various minor league stops has rollercoastered from 1.3 all the way up to 6.1, and one gets the impression that his feel for the zone wavers from game to game. He’s made strides with the Shuckers, though, running a 2.5 BB/9 through 21.3 innings. Combined with his penchant for punch outs and his ability to limit contact, that number is more than sufficient.
The only thing left to determine is how those numbers translate to higher levels. It’s not clear to what extent the rarefied air of Class-AAA Colorado Springs factored into Ramsey’s assignment to the Southern League. Brewers brass may have wanted to ease his arm back into full-season action in a pitcher-friendly environment. It could also be that Ramsey is simply buried on the organizational depth chart, a casualty of the depth of the improved Brewers system. But it’s clear that Ramsey can retire AA hitters. The Brewers saw enough to add him to their stable. If he keeps performing at his current level, the club will have little choice but to demonstrate their commitment with a promotion.
At 27 years old and coming off a serious injury, Matt Ramsey no longer fits the mold of a conventional prospect. But David Stearns and the Brewers are unafraid to cut against the grain: look no further than the dynamic battery of Junior Guerra and Manny Piña for proof of that. Ramsey has the tools to neutralize batters and stabilize a bullpen. He only needs health and opportunity. So far this year, he’s proving his health. He can only hope that opportunity will follow.