In his second season as manager of the Lexington Legends, Omar Ramirez has learned he has to have a lot of patience and a short memory.
He began the season with eight of the parent club Kansas City Royals’ top 30 prospects and a bunch of other extremely young players looking to one day play in the major leagues.
But with young talent, comes mistakes and inconsistencies and the Legends’ 22-33 record entering Monday night shows how tough the grind can be.
“Last year we had a very good offensive team, but we were last in pitching,” Ramirez said Saturday just ahead of the team’s trip to Lakewood, N.J. “This year, we’re not that good at hitting, we’re not that good defensively, and we’re not that good at pitching. It’s hard to win some games like that.”
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Still, as the Royals’ lowest tier, full-season minor league affiliate, the games are always about developing the players. With so much invested in the potential of such young players, Ramirez said the Royals’ front-office preaches patience and process, as well.
“It’s hard, but you get used to it, because it’s a process,” Ramirez said. “They’ve got to trust the process and we’ve got to trust the process, too. These kids are going to help us in the big leagues one day.”
While the losses can pile up, Ramirez and his staff wipe the slate each day and keep building.
“It’s a new day,” he said. “It’s about whatever we need to do today and play hard on the field. … They’re learning the game, and the only thing I ask is, ‘Hey, go out there and give me 100 percent.’”
Sometimes, it’s hard to sell patience with players who signed for million-dollar bonuses out of high school. The Legends began the season with five such players. One, Foster Griffin, showed enough improvement to get called up to Class A-Advanced affiliate Wilmington, N.C. The rest continue to pay their dues in the South Atlantic League.
“It’s a tough league,” Ramirez said. “It’s a long season and there’s a lot of games left. So, that’s what we tell them. Just be patient. Keep listening to your coaches and everything’s going to be fine.”
Top Royals prospects among the Legends
No. 5 (prospect). Nolan Watson, 19, from Indianapolis. Watson is 1-5 on the season with an 8.15 ERA that has been skewed by a rough first outing when he pitched just three innings and gave up six runs. He got his first win May 19 against Greenville, going five innings with just three hits, two walks and four strikeouts.
This is the first full season in the minors for the 6-foot-2 right-hander after signing for a reported $1.825 million bonus as the 33rd overall pick in the 2015 draft. He has a “good fastball” measured in the 92-95 mph range and has a slider, curve and change-up in his arsenal.
Ramirez says Watson’s biggest hurdle is being 19.
“He has to learn and that’s the main thing,” Ramirez said. “(He needs to keep) working on his pitches with (pitching coach) Mitch (Stetter) and be patient. It’s going to come. He’s got the stuff. …
“Remember, sometimes these kids were successful in high school and then they come here and you know in a league that has tough hitters that they’re not going to dominate. High school is high school. Professional baseball is another story.”
No. 6. Scott Blewett, 20, Baldwinsville, N.Y. Blewett is 3-5 with a 4.58 ERA. The 6-foot-6 right-hander played a full season with the Legends last year going 3-5 with a 5.20 ERA in 18 starts, so he’s already increased his workload this season. Blewett was the 56th overall pick in the 2014 draft and garnered a signing bonus reported at $1.8 million.
“He’s a competitor,” Ramirez said. “He was here last year at 19, too. We expect he will go to Wilmington soon. If he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s going to be out of here soon.”
No. 8. Marten Gasparini, 19, Ruda, Italy. Gasparini was signed for a $1.3 million out of Italy at 16 years old and has spent much of his time since in the rookie leagues with Burlington and Idaho Falls. The right-handed shortstop is batting just .170 in 147 at bats in his first year up in Class A, but he has four homers.
“Coming from Italy, it’s not a baseball country, and there’s a lot of things he needs to learn,” Ramirez said. “What we’re trying to do with him is get him to put the ball in play more. He’s probably the fastest runner we have here.”
No. 9. Foster Griffin, 20, Orlando, Fla. Griffin got the call-up to Class A-Advanced Wilmington (N.C.) after going 1-4 with a 3.38 ERA and 29 strikeouts with the Legends to start the season. While the wins weren’t there, the 6-foot-3 left-hander impressed this season. He signed for a reported $1.925 million as the 28th overall pick of the 2014 draft.
“We don’t look at the wins and losses,” Ramirez said. “A lot of things can happen to win a game or lose a game, but the ERA was good. He made so much progress from last year. He matured as a pitcher.”
No. 11. Chase Vallot, 19, Lafayette, La. Vallot, the 40th overall pick in the 2014 draft who signed for a reported $1.35 million, has enjoyed a productive early season at the plate in his second season with the Legends. He’s batting .289 with eight homers and 28 RBI, putting him among the South Atlantic League leaders. After driving in six runs in the Legends’ May 29 win over Hagerstown, he got injured on a play at the plate and has been temporarily assigned to the Royals’ Arizona League team.
“This is a kid that is making so much progress offensively. (He hit .219 with 13 home runs in a half season last year),” Ramirez said. “He’s still working on his two-strike approach, but if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s going to go to Wilmington (soon).”
While Vallot is still learning the trade behind the plate, Ramirez says he’s not that far behind the big-leaguers.
“People think those big league catchers know how to call a game. They don’t,” he joked. “And we’re asking a 19-year-old kid to know right away to call a game. That takes time.”
No. 19. Amalani Fukofuka, 20, Hayward, Calif. Fukofuka, a right-handed outfielder is playing his first season in Class A after a breakout year in the Pioneer League, going for a .339 average at the plate. He’s adjusting to the South Atlantic League with a .232 batting average, but has four homers and 13 stolen bases.
“He’s probably the best athlete we have here along with Gasparini,” Ramirez said. “Coming from a league in Idaho Falls last year where he did well, now, he’s facing guys that are 22, 23, you know, college kids, and it’s tough to figure things out right away. But he’s working hard.”
No. 24. Anderson Miller, 22, Lexington, Ky. Miller, a left-handed outfielder out of Lafayette High School and Western Kentucky University is in his second season with the Legends after being drafted in the third round as a junior. Miller returns to the Legends’ roster this week after being sidelined by a wrist injury earlier in the season.
“He comes to the field ready to play. We’re still working with him on his swing and trying to use the whole field,” Ramirez said. “It’s too bad that we lost him for like a month.”
No. 29. Yunior Marte, 21, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Marte, a 6-2 right-hander, is in his second full season with the Legends. He’s gone 3-2 with a 4.30 ERA in 11 starts this season. He was 4-5 with a 6.44 ERA in 18 appearances last year.
“He’s made so much improvement with his mechanics from last year,” Ramirez said. “He’s throwing more strikes this year.”