Friday, February 22, 2013

A Tale of Two Sluggers

Spring Training offers a lot for baseball fans - the first sight of live action in months, the annual hope of pennant chases (or at least mediocre play), roster battles, and brief glimpses of the franchises future as top prospects spend time with the big league camp.

For Pirate fans, those hopes are almost always met by equal disappointments in the following months and years.  The Bucs enter camps this year with a pair of potential ace arms in the upper minors in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.  But sixteen years ago, the Pirates entered camp with another pair of prospects to dream on who took drastically different paths.

Entering the 1997 season, the Pirates had two corner infield power prospects who appeared poised to power the team's offense into the next century.  Twenty-one year old first base prospect Ron Wright ranked #48 on Baseball America's preseason Top 100, while 19 year old third baseman Aramis Ramirez cracked the '97 list at number 26.  Wright was coming off his age 21 season in AAA Calgary in the hitter friendly PCL.  Still, his raw power numbers (16 HR's and 31 doubles in a little over 350 PA's) and high average at an advanced level for his age confirmed his prospect status.  Similarly, Ramirez put up outstanding numbers at High-A Lynchburg, .278/.390/.517 as a 19 year old.

However, the two players would follow dramatically different paths.  Wright's career would be seriously derailed by injuries, draining him of both the power and bat speed that made him a top prospect.  Though he would bounce around AAA into the early 2000's, his only major league appearance would come in 2002 in one game for the Mariners.

 Ramirez, obviously, found more success at the major league level, developing in a two time all-star, though he too would have his career go off track while with the Pirates.  Rushed to the majors at age 20 in 1998, Ramirez would be shuttled between the majors and AAA for the next three seasons, undoubtedly slowing his development.  His major league service time early on would prove catastrophic, since his increased cost during his arbitration years forced the Pirates to deal Ramirez in 2003 at age 25, just as he was meeting his potential as a hitter, in order to get out of the red.

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