BOSTON -- A change in direction can, at times, provide a player with a more direct path to his goal of reaching the Majors, something on which Double-A Portland right-hander Noe Ramirez reflected as he looked across the empty stands at Fenway Park.
After making 16 starts in his first season as a pro last year with Class A Greenville, Ramirez has rebranded himself as a reliever, a move that allowed him to take in the history of Boston's hallowed grounds on Saturday as he and his teammates geared up to face Harrisburg as part of the annual Futures at Fenway event.
"I was talking with my friends about how it would be awesome if the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field were still around," the 23-year-old right-hander said as he gazed out at the Green Monster. "It's old school. It's pretty awesome that Fenway is still up."
Selected by the Red Sox in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft out of Cal State-Fullerton, Ramirez came in with plenty of experience at both the college and national level, having played with Team USA's collegiate squad in 2010.
That experience, along with a deceptive arm slot and an ability to control three seasoned pitches made Red Sox brass reconsider the role Ramirez could play for the organization. And they put their plan to action last spring.
"A lot of time we'll stick to the starter plan longer," said Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett. "As a guy that's coming from advanced college performance at a really high level, doing it at Team USA, doing it at a lot of those venues, and for a guy that had really advanced pitch development, we felt like that would be a good opportunity to get him in a position where he is ready to advance a little bit faster than he would as a starter."
It was a change that Ramirez welcomed with open arms, allowing him to excel at Class A Advanced Salem to start the season. He made 21 appearances in the Carolina League, allowing 11 earned runs over 47 innings for a 2.11 ERA while striking out 44 batters and walking nine.
"I've been a starter my entire life," Ramirez said. "I like being a reliever, I'm really comfortable. My slider has been a lot better this year. I've worked hard at it and I feel comfortable throwing it in any count to a righty or lefty."
That slider has given him three solid pitch options that helped in his promotion to Portland at the end of June and that has allowed him to continue his success at the next level.
"His slider is very good and the fastball early in the count is solid," said Portland catcher Christian Vazquez. "He controls himself, and the anxiety and nerves he controls very well."
"His slider has been improving since the move to the bullpen," Crockett added. "His release creates some deception for the hitter and I think that's something we saw potentially playing up in shorter stints."
Entering Saturday, Ramirez had made six appearances since joining the Sea Dogs, posting a 3.07 ERA and 0.82 WHIP with 15 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings.
As the sun bathed Fenway in a perfect spotlight Saturday afternoon, he couldn't help but wonder about pitching here in the future.
"It's surreal," Ramirez said before the game. "There's a lot of history here and I'm extremely honored to step foot on this field. It's 'The Show.' This is where you want to be. This is where I'm working hard to be."