It's the kind of story that the folks at Disney might want for the next feel-good sports movie coming to a theater near you.
A small right-handed pitcher comes out of the Dominican pursuing the big-league dream. He signs with the Angels in 2001, but barely can stick in A-ball and is released in March of 2004. Not ready to give up, he pitches in two independent league locales before the New York Yankees sign him in 2006 to help out their Florida State League affiliate in Tampa.
Armed with a changeup he taught himself and with some major help from the Yankees organization in terms of fastball command and a new slider, the 160-pounder goes from organizational filler to big leaguer in a little over a year. In the process, Edwar Ramirez would put up ungodly numbers in 2007 to earn MiLB.com's Relief Pitcher of the Year Award. The Kleenex would be out in full force in theaters around the country.
"It's an amazing story, given the fact we got him out of an indy league," Yankees Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations Mark Newman said. "We thought maybe he can help us in Double-A [this season]. We sorely underestimated what he was capable of, the numbers he put up are hard to believe."
The 26-year-old's stats were indeed eye-popping. Between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Ramirez pitched 56 2/3 innings, allowing 26 hits and 22 walks while striking out 102. Five runs were charged to him all season in the Minors, resulting in a ridiculous 0.79 ERA. Hitters managed a .135 batting average against the reliever at both levels.
"In Triple-A, he was absolutely, totally dominating," said Dave Eiland, Ramirez's pitching coach in Scranton. "It was incredible. Everyone in the dugout and bullpen would get to their feet when he came in because he has a very good chance to strike everyone out and he almost did. If he didn't strike someone out people would wonder if he was OK."
He was OK mostly because of that changeup. Changeups are probably more accurate. Ramirez featured two off-speed pitches, a straight change and one that acted more like a splitter or fork ball that tumbles out of the strike zone. That's the one that allowed him to chalk up so many strikeouts in the Minors.
"It's his arm speed. He doesn't give it away," Eiland explained. "The late movement, the hitters just don't recognize. They have to commit to it before the bottom drops out.
"He has a plus Major League out pitch. He has to continue improving fastball command and throw that slider more and we'll have a quality big league reliever on our hands."
He was able to get some Major League outs with the changeup, but he also learned he'll have to be a lot more consistent with those other two aspects of his game to have long-term success. He did strikeout 31 in 21 innings, but gave up 24 hits and 19 runs for an 8.14 ERA. The work he put in on his fastball command -- which is Major League average at 89-92 mph -- and the slider enabled him to reach the big leagues much faster than anyone could have anticipated. Now he knows what he needs to do to stay there in 2008.
"That's what gets lost," Eiland said. "He has a very good slider. He hasn't used it much in the big leagues. He's come a long way in the last year, considering the beginning of last year he was in an independent league. He's never pitched this much this deep, so he's a little fatigued at this point.
"No matter who you are, you have to pitch off your fastball. you have to have fastball command. We were trying to get him better at that before he was ready to come to the big leagues. Word was out that the change was his out pitch. If he's not commanding his fastball, they're going to lay off his changeup. I think he's going to be fine. This year is going to be a great experience. We'll see some good things from him next year."