Halfway through the first month of the season, Cody Clark is getting most the playing time behind the plate for the Omaha Storm Chasers (the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals), but Omaha’s other catcher, Max Ramirez, is leading the team in both home runs (5) and runs driven in (19). Manager Mike Jirschele has used him as the team’s designated hitter more than any other player.
And why not?
The Spring Training non-roster invitee, who spent time with three teams in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) last season, put up big numbers in Surprise, Arizona (.344 AVG, 4 HRs, 13 RBIs in 21 games) this spring for the Royals. And he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down for the Storm Chasers (.364 AVG, 5 HRs, 19 RBIs in 9 games). In fact, going into action tonight, he leads the PCL in RBIs and he’s tied for the league lead in home runs.
Ramirez, 27, does have a history of wrist problems. He missed some action earlier this season and recently had a cortisone injection.
“It feels pretty good this year,” Ramirez told Mark Nasser during the Storm Chasers’ pre-game radio show Tuesday, April 17, 2012. “After the last couple of years, my wrist had a little bit of swelling. But right now it feels pretty good.”
Signed by the Royals as a minor league free agent on Dec. 14, 2011, Ramirez has bounced around since the Atlanta Braves signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2002. He has also made stops in the minor leagues for the Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs (.296 AVG, 90 HRs, 425 RBIs in 655 games). He has also played 45 games at the big league level with the Rangers (.217 AVG, 4 HRs, 17 RBIs).
He cites his previous experience with Royals’ general manager Dayton Moore as one of the reasons he signed the minor league deal with Kansas City.
“It’s a great organization,” Ramirez told Nasser. “I know Dayton Moore and J.J. Picollo (the Royals’ assistant general manager who oversees scouting and player development) from the Braves. I was so excited to be in this organization because I knew the guys and it’s pretty good that they know you and what you can do.”
He says he’s happy to have the opportunity to compete for a spot with the Storm Chasers and he’s hoping for some stability after last season. He was claimed off waivers by the Boston Red Sox before the 2011 season. Just five days later, the Cubs claimed him off waivers and he went on to play for two other organizations.
“It was terrible,” he said. “It was the first time in my career that I got released. It was pretty bad. You have to get everything together and you have to play [well] if you’re going to get another chance. Finally, the Giants gave me an opportunity (in Triple-A with Fresno) the last two months and I did very well.”
Ramirez was originally a third baseman, but was converted to catcher in 2005 by Atlanta. Known mostly for his offense, he says the Rangers told him he needed to work on his defense — including his throw to second base — to play in the big leagues. He says he made strides in the right direction last season. So far this season, he has thrown out one of the three runners who attempted to steal a base while he was behind the plate.
This is Lee Warren’s fourth season covering the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Follow him on Twitter @OmahaBaseball for updates about the Storm Chasers.