By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. – At 21 years of age, Harold Ramirez is one of the youngest players on the Altoona Curve roster this season.
The Pirates signed Ramirez as an international free agent at age 16 – that’s right, 16 –on July 2, 2011 and his professional baseball career was underway. Even though he’s already reached the Double-A level, it hasn’t been easy for the Cartegena, Colombia native.
“Because of injuries, he hasn’t played a full season yet, so he doesn’t have much experience,” Curve manager Joey Cora said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “It’s a challenge for him because of his age and experience, but it’s good for him because he’s learning the intricacies of the game.
“It’s always a learning curve for young players, especially at this level,” Cora noted. “You’re learning the strike zone, you’re seeing breaking balls when you’re expecting fastballs … you’ve got to learn that stuff.”
Ramirez made his pro debut with the GCL Pirates on July 7, 2012. He was only 17 years old and had missed the first month of the season with a leg injury. He hit safely in 17 of his first 20 games and finished with a .259 average in 39 games.
The big outfielder (5-10, 220) went to short-season Jamestown in 2013 where he played in a team-high 71 games, batted .285, tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 23 and was named by Baseball America as the New York-Pennsylvania League’s top prospect.
Ramirez was promoted to low-A West Virginia in 2014 and batted .309, although he played in only 49 games because of hamstring and right knee inflammation.
Despite the injuries and limited number of games in 2014, Ramirez was promoted to advanced-A Bradenton in 2015 where he played in 80 games, batted .337 and led the Marauders in stolen bases (22). He had 31 multi-hit games, led the Florida State League in hitting and was second in OBP among players with at least 200 plate appearances. However, he did not have enough at-bats to qualify for the league batting title.
He also participated in the Pan American Games for Colombia in Toronto in July of 2015 and then played 15 games for Mazatlan in the Mexican Winter League. He capped the year by being placed on the Pirates’ 40-man roster on Nov. 20 and was invited to his first big-league spring training camp in 2016 where he went 11-for-19 in Grapefruit League action.
“I felt very good,” Ramirez said of his first big-league camp experience. “I felt excited to play and I watched because I wanted to learned what they do. Everybody – the coaches and players—tell you things and I wanted to do everything correctly.”
Ramirez said his native Colombia “is always hot” and noted “this weather is difficult.”
Ramirez got off to a slow start offensively with the Curve, but Cora noted: “One thing he has always done is hit.”
Ramirez also is batting leadoff, which is new, too.
“That’s another challenge for him,” Cora said. “He’s always been third or fourth, but he’s learning to do a lot of things and he’ll get four or five at-bats a game.
“It’s a challenge for us, too,” Cora said. “He’s like a baby learning to walk. By the end of the year, we hope to have him riding a bike.
“His tools indicate he’ll be in The Show someday,” Cora said. “He’s got the talent, without a doubt.”
As for Ramirez, he’s willing to keep working his way up the ladder.
“I just do my work every day,” Ramirez said. “Sometimes I have downs, but I just want to be better.”