On Monday’s podcast, I asked Mack Ade who he considered to be a sleeper among the team’s prospects. I was expecting him to say either Akeel Morris or Domingo Tapia, two guys who pitched in Kingsport this past season. But Mack identified Elvin Ramirez as a guy to watch, even suggesting that he was a closer possibility.

Ramirez was just an org soldier, a guy who could light up radar guns but couldn’t throw strikes and was unimpressive as a starter in the low minors. But he became a hot property following the 2010 season, thanks to a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League, where in 20.2 IP, Ramirez allowed 4 BB, had 26 Ks and a 2.18 ERA.

Eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, speculation began mounting that Ramirez would be the top overall pick. He ended up being selected sixth by Washington. Here’s what Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore about Ramirez after the Rule 5 Draft:

“He’s finally figuring out the strike zone. The later portion of the minor league season and this winter, he’s taken it to a different level. He’s a big, power guy we hope helps us in the bullpen this year. A great scouting effort by our scouts. You’re taking a chance on a guy that throws upper-90s, 100. If he throws consistent strikes, he’ll be a good piece for us in the bullpen.”

Unfortunately for the Nationals, Ramirez came down with shoulder problems. First they tried a cortisone shot but after that did not work, Ramirez underwent shoulder surgery and missed the entire 2011 season. As a Rule 5 guy who spent the year on the DL, Ramirez’ Rule 5 status carried forward to 2012. Washington had to keep him on the 25-man roster or offer him back to New York, and they opted for the latter.

The Mets paid $25,000 to reclaim Ramirez in mid-October but they left him exposed again in the Rule 5 Draft. While the top pick in the latest Rule 5 did come from the Mets, it was Rhiner Cruz and not Ramirez. With his injury history, no team took a gamble on Ramirez, who now sits on the official roster of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.

Now the Mets get to see if the improved control Ramirez flashed in the 2010 Dominican Winter League was for real or merely a small sample size fluke. On the plus side, veteran Nationals beat writer Mark Zuckerman reported that Ramirez was throwing in the high 90s in the Florida Instructional League before the Nationals returned him to the Mets, hopefully an indication that his shoulder is healthy and ready for a full season.

While it’s possible Ramirez makes the Mets out of Spring Training (after last year’s decision to carry Blaine Boyer based on 11 IP, I refuse to rule out anything), most likely he heads to the minors to show he’s completely healthy and that he can throw strikes on a consistent basis.

Relievers who can reach 100 mph on the radar gun are hardly a dime a dozen. If Ramirez can keep his walks in check, he will pitch in New York sometime this season. We know how excited everyone has been about Bobby Parnell because of his ability to hit 100 on the radar gun. We also know how frustrating he’s been due to his walks and how relatively easy it is for batters to reach base when they do hit the ball.

Right now Ramirez profiles similarly as Parnell, being a hard thrower with command issues. However, Parnell never had a season in the minors with a BABIP as low as the .269 mark that Ramirez had in 2010 with St. Lucie. He’s tougher to hit than Parnell, who has a lifetime .335 BABIP in the majors. If Ramirez can cut down his walks, he has even more upside than Parnell.

Just remember if he does it in 2012 in the majors – Mack told you about it first.

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