Wilson Ramos is a 29 year old catcher that earned All-Star and Silver Slugger accolades in 2016. He is coming off a season in which he slashed .307/.354/.496 with 22 HR over 131 games. He even received some MVP votes once the season was finished.
Ramos was the best free agent catcher available on the free agent market. And that catcher just signed a two year deal for a bargain of a price to play for the Tampa Bay Rays that only guarantees him an AAV of $6 million.
This is a result of a torn ACL that Ramos suffered in the final weeks of the regular season, a crushing blow as he was surely heading for a huge payday. Ramos has the rare ability of being solid behind the plate while also putting up above average offense for a catcher.
Let’s follow the long and winding road that led him to sign with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Minnesota Twins signed Wilson Ramos at the ripe age of 16 on July 7th, 2004; however, he wouldn’t’ make his professional debut until two years later after the Twins assigned him to their Gulf Coast League team in the Rookie-Leagues in 2006, where he displayed solid potential both offensively and defensively.
The following season, he received a two level promotion, moving up to full season ball for the Single-A Beloit Snappers, and he continued to hit, slashing .291/.345/.438 over 73 games (a short amount of time as he first attended extended spring training and then his season ended early with an injury). Following the year, Baseball America declared Ramos the organization’s top defensive catcher and ranked him as the third top prospect in the Twins system:
Ramos blends catch-and-throw talent and offensive upside in a manner rare among current minor leaguers. He has excellent strength, helping produce above-average bat speed and power to all fields. A solid-average runner for now, Ramos rounds out his tools with an accurate, above-average arm and the hands to be a sound receiver. He threw out 41 percent of basestealers in 2007. One Twins official described Ramos as nearly a five-tool catcher... untouchable...
Ramos was finally able to play a full season in 2008 for the High-A Fort Myers Miracle where he was able to overcome a slow start and put up respectable offensive numbers again. He would keep the same ranking from Baseball America as the Twins third prospect and moved into their top-100 prospect list as 71st overall.
In 2009, Ramos spent the bulk of the season injured, but when he wasn’t injured he was dominating the league in Double-A. He appeared in only 54 games, but put up 120 wRC+. Baseball America again placed him among their top prospects, 2nd in the Twins system and 58th overall in baseball.
2010 - Major League Debut
Wilson Ramos finally made his major league debut with the Twins in 2010, despite putting up miserable numbers during his first taste of Triple-A. The young 22 year old made his debut on May 2nd, 2010 and it was a day to remember as he went 4-5 with a double against the Indians.
Ramos’s time in the majors with the Twins wouldn’t last too long, he played in just seven games. As the trade deadline dawned, the Twins were looking for an established reliever and to acquire one they had to deal their highly coveted catching prospect. So, July 29th, 2010 the Twins dealt Wilson Ramos, along with Joe Testa, to the Washington Nationals for Matt Capps.
Ramos would get a small cup of coffee in Washington toward the end of the season, but in 2011, he became the team’s everyday catcher.
2011 - Abduction in Venezuela
Over 113 games that season, Ramos slashed .267/.334/.445 with 15 HR, accruing 2.6 fWAR as well as maintaining 111 wRC+. He would finish 4th in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Following the season, Ramos was participating the Venezuelan Leagues, when one night he was abducted by armed men. He would eventually be saved unharmed.
You can watch an ABC story on the events here:
2012-2014 - Injuries take over the narrative
Wilson Ramos looked primed for a breakout season in 2012; however, early on the year Ramos suffered a torn ACL that’d require surgery and put him out of action for the season’s duration.
In 2013, Ramos remained excellent while healthy, but struggled to stay that way as he spent two different stints on the disabled list due to hamstring issues. He played in less than half the team’s games, but still slashed .272/.307/.470 with 16 HR over the course of 78 games, good for 113 wRC+ and 1.5 fWAR.
Ramos’s struggles with the injury bug continued in 2014, and right from the get go as he fractured his hamate on Opening Day and that shelved him for over a month; he returned in early May. Just over a month later, he dealt with more hamstring issues that cost him two more weeks, but again, when healthy, he was above average offensive catcher. Despite slashing .267/.299/.399 with 11 HR over just 88 games, he still accrued 1.5 fWAR with a wRC+ of 93.
2015-2016 - Established major league veteran
Finally in 2015, Ramos managed to avoid the disabled list and set a career high in games played.
Unfortunately his production absolutely plummeted during this time. He set career lows in average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage with a slash of .229/.258/.358, but he continued to hit the ball out the park with 15 HR, nonetheless, he was barely above replacement level with 0.4 fWAR and a wRC+ of 63.
Everything came together for Ramos in 2016.
He was healthy, he was locked in at and behind the plate, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Venezuelan catcher as he became a free agent at the season’s conclusion. He slashed .307/.354/.496 (the Rays have never had a catcher with a SLG that high with as many plate appearances as Ramos did in 2016) with 22 HR over 131 games, good for 3.5 fWAR and a 124 wRC+.
As noted above, he’d be awarded a Silver Slugger award for his offensive contributions, and was featured on the All-Star Game roster.
However, as the season was near its end, Ramos heartrendingly tore his ACL once again, effectively ending his season and limiting his value on the free agent market.
Wilson Ramos needed a place with a top medical team, a low key environment to recoup his lost value, and an American League club where he could designated hit while recovering.
The stars aligned for the budget strapped Rays to swoop in sign Ramos, and to their benefit, landing him on a two year deal with hope of reaping multiple seasons of contributions.
According to the player himself, as relayed in his introductory press conference this morning, Ramos’s recovery time table is a month ahead of schedule, with a possible return to hitting in May, with a return to fielding a month or so after.
If so, the Rays truly have the sweet swinging catcher on a solid two year deal as the Rays look to stay competitive in the nebulous AL East.