In a 2019 season mostly devoid of feel-good stories for the Miami Marlins, Harold Ramirez was an undeniable one.
The outfielder was pretty much never a very highly touted prospect as he spent seven full seasons bouncing around the minor leagues. He pretty much always produced when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates and then pretty much always produced when the Pirates traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays, too. The Blue Jays, though, never gave Ramirez a crack at Triple A, so he became a free agent after the 2018 season, signed with the Marlins and finally got his opportunity. He hit with Triple A New Orleans, so he got the call to Miami, where he kept hitting.
In his first 19 games, Ramirez collected 27 hits. He finished his rookie season with the fourth-most hits on the team, batting .276 with 11 home runs. He was one of the more valuable hitters on the team and made the most outfield starts, yet he once again finds his place uncertain.
“We won 57 games last year,” manager Don Mattingly said when asked about Ramirez. “Just because a guy was here last year doesn’t necessarily mean with anybody that they’re here this year.”
Ramirez, who had a ninth-inning hit in the Marlins’ 1-1 tie with the New York Mets on Monday at Roger Dean Stadium and is now 4 for 24 with two homers in Grapefruit League play, isn’t even a lock to make Miami’s Opening Day roster after some of the additions the Marlins made in the offseason. First, Miami brought in Matt Kemp on a minor-league deal, then they signed Corey Dickerson to a two-year contract late last year. In January, the Marlins brought in fellow outfielder Matt Joyce on a one-year, major-league deal. Related content
Miami also acquired middle infielder Jonathan Villar when the Baltimore Orioles waived him, and the Marlins are in the process of moving him to center field. It’s entirely possible Miami will open the season with three starting outfielders who weren’t on the team last year.
“We went out and signed some guys, and there’s some different pieces on your club,” Mattingly said. “Your club looks a little different, and obviously it’s getting a little harder who’s going to be the guys here.”
It’s a good problem for the Marlins to have in Jupiter this year. Last season, Miami started Lewis Brinson, Curtis Granderson and Garrett Cooper as its outfielders on Opening Day. Granderson was far past his prime, and Brinson and Cooper were entirely unproven.
Now Brinson, Ramirez and Cooper all have an uphill climb to become regular parts of the Marlins’ lineup, and it’s all but certain not all three will start the season in Miami — if they’re all even still a part of the organization.
Cooper’s future might be at first base and his ability to play first and the outfield is his best path to make the roster. Brinson, after two disastrous seasons in MLB, has once again been a pleasant surprise in the spring, which could earn the former first-round pick one last shot with the Marlins.
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Ramirez, 25, is the youngest of the three, played all three outfield spots in 2019 and was at the center of some of the most exciting moments of Miami’s mostly miserable season, hitting two walk-off home runs and slugging .494 in high-leverage situations, according to Baseball-Reference.com. When the league adjusted to him after his hot start, Ramirez adjusted back by opening up his extremely closed batting stance and putting a greater emphasis on his lower body. He spent this season focusing on using his legs while hitting to increase his power potential in his second season.
“I just changed a little bit because I needed it,” Ramirez said. “I’ve got to do my adjustments as they see my videos, they throw different pitches. They see how they do their adjustments, so I’ve got to do mine.”
These three will give the Marlins a series of difficult decisions before they open the season March 26 against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Villar and Dickerson are virtual locks to make the team, and Miami is behaving as if Joyce is, too. Throw in Kemp and utility player Jon Berti, who played 21 games in center field last year, and there’s probably only a spot or two left, depending whether Kemp makes the team.
Brinson, Cooper and Ramirez all have options remaining, while fellow outfielder Magneuris Sierra is out of them. It gives Miami some flexibility and fosters competition, even if it puts some young players in a challenging position.
“I just come to work. I just do my job,” Ramirez said. “The result is going to come and the team is going to make some decisions. I’ve just got to work hard and play hard.”