Where Did He Come From? Outfielder Harold Ramirez elected free agency after playing the 2018 season in the Blue Jays farm system. The Marlins signed him to a minor league deal ($25,000 bonus).
.276 BA | .312 OBP | .416 SLG | 11 HR | 92 wRC+ | 0.4 fWAR | 446 PA
Harold Ramirez brought us so much joy in 2019, but it’s easy—and frightening—to imagine an alternate universe where he left the Marlins organization before playing a single meaningful game. Rather than inject life into a dormant lineup during a standout rookie season, he could have found himself on this list of one-and-done NRIs.
Ramirez looked fine in Spring Training, but with the Grapefruit League schedule winding down, he was told that he hadn’t done enough to crack the Opening Day roster. The Marlins favored the veteran presence of Curtis Granderson, the tantalizing tools of Lewis Brinson, the versatility of Rosell Herrera and the power potential of Garrett Cooper/Peter O’Brien (Cooper would get the nod over O’Brien). No room for the Colombian outfielder.
Ramirez faced a decision: exercise the opt-out in his contract or accept an assignment with Triple-A New Orleans. He went down to the farm, determined to produce while waiting his turn.
It wasn’t a long wait! “Hittin’ Harold” dominated the Pacific Coast League to the tune of a .355/.408/.591 slash line (143 wRC+) in 120 plate appearances. He was pulling the ball with authority without compromising his contact skills—impressive for somebody who had never competed at that MiLB level previously.
With the Marlins offense on a historically bad pace through the first quarter of the schedule, Brinson reluctantly sent down and Granderson and Herrera failing to take advantage of their heavy playing time, Ramirez was called up on May 11. He stayed in The Show for the rest of the season.
You could make the case that, despite the delayed debut, Harold Ramirez was the most valuable player on the 2019 Marlins. It wouldn’t be the most convincing case, but you could make it anyway!
The Marlins averaged a mere 2.74 runs per game through their first 38 games. From Ramirez’s arrival through the end of the season, that improved to 4.12 runs per game. When Ramirez was in the starting lineup, they had a .430 winning percentage (43-57) compared to a truly pathetic .226 winning percentage in all other contests combined (14-48). According to FanGraphs, he led all Marlins—by a wide margin—with 1.79 Win Probability Added as a batter; the only member of the club with a higher WPA, reliever Sergio Romo, was traded to the Twins in July.
Ramirez was at his absolute best when the game was on the line. He slashed .400/.429/.667 with a 181 wRC+ during his 50 plate appearances in high-leverage situations, per FanGraphs, including three home runs. Two of those were walk-offs.
The 24-year-old was surprisingly quick considering his stocky frame. His 28.9 ft/sec Sprint Speed—as measured by Statcast—ranked in the 92nd percentile among MLB players. He had 23 infield hits and reached base on errors eight times, leading the Marlins in both categories.
Ramirez showed flaws, of course. He would be a better run producer if he elevated the ball more consistently (57.4 GB%). And his defense...woof. The Marlins, lacking any competent alternatives, tried him in center field for a few weeks. His lack of instincts and technique caused too many misplays, which forced a move to the outfield corners, and even there, metrics such as Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average and the good ol’ eye test agree that he was a liability.
Your 2019 Miami Marlins in one screenshot pic.twitter.com/Tz9lzpmHCC— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) June 1, 2019
I entered 2019 with higher expectations for Harold Ramirez than most did. All in all, he met them.
Off The Field
During his first winter as a major leaguer, Ramirez returned to his native Colombia. He has a wife, Adriana, and a three-year-old son Elian. They have a second child due to arrive this spring.
Although he hasn’t made any bold proclamations about being in the Best Shape Of His Life, footage of his recent workouts suggests that he has trimmed some body fat:
Looking fit and still making that LOUD contact. No sophomore slump coming for Harold Ramirez pic.twitter.com/PrWZfaB6dk— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) January 30, 2020
There’s a lot to like about Ramirez and good reason to believe that his rookie production is sustainable, but the competition for playing time in the Marlins outfield should be fierce.
Free agent acquisitions Corey Dickerson and Matt Joyce are locks for the Opening Day roster (health permitting). Monte Harrison will get semi-regular starts whenever his long-awaited call-up comes. Same applies to Jesús Sánchez. Lewis Brinson and Magneuris Sierra profile better as stopgap center fielders than Ramirez does, while Garrett Cooper could see action in the corners on days that first base isn’t available. Brian Anderson—the truest “everyday player” of them all—proved himself to be a plus defender at both third base and right field. Also, Jon Berti! And former NL MVP Matt Kemp! And on and on it goes.
Perhaps recognizing the gravity of the challenge ahead of him, Ramirez played several weeks of winter ball in Colombia and reported to Jupiter early to prep for Spring Training.
However, I do not see a realistic path for his role to significantly expand in 2020. He could get to 500 plate appearances or so by making strides defensively and adding more over-the-fence power. Look at how Ramirez used the middle of the field—he figures to be a big beneficiary of the new dimensions coming to Marlins Park.
Worst-case scenario? Ramirez doesn’t get an extended opportunity to demonstrate his worth, as the Marlins use his one remaining minor league option to trap him in a Triple-A limbo similar to what Austin Dean experienced a year ago.
2020 Steamer projection: .275/.316/.419 | 94 wRC+ | 0.1 fWAR | 75 PA