James Ramsey is blessed with natural talent. Pair that with the knack the St. Louis Cardinals have for developing hitters, and the 24-year-old outfield prospect has a bright future. It doesn’t hurt that Ramsey’s brains are every bit a match for his brawn.
A former Rhodes Scholar candidate who was drafted 23th overall in 2012 out of Florida State University, Ramsey achieved passing grades in his first full professional season. Swinging from the left side, he hit .265/.373/.440, with 16 home runs, between high-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield.
Not all evaluators have faith in Ramsey becoming an impact player — “high floor, low ceiling” is a refrain — but even the skeptics agree he’s a future big-leaguer. Ramsey finished up his 2013 campaign in the Arizona Fall League, where he discussed his development.
Ramsey on hitting as an art and a science: “I think it has to be a little bit of both. There are certain parts about hitting where you’re analyzing, and they’re extremely important. They can help you find your strengths and weaknesses. But you also have to find your own craft. You have to be able to use the things that are individual to yourself that maybe set you apart from the rest.
“When a lot of people look at my swing, they might not see the prettiest, smoothest swing from the left side. Some have equated it to my tennis background, with my backhand. For me, it’s all about trying to make sure barrel gets to baseball. Staying inside the ball is one of the most important parts of doing that.”
On his hitting approach: “I try to work at bats. Situationally, my swing can sometimes change with different things I’m trying to do and the spots in the lineup where I’m hitting. But overall, it’s just trying to make solid contact as much as possible.
“I’ve never been a big guess guy. I always just kind of react and let the situation dictate where my eyes are set. For me, it’s all about which pitcher I’m facing and what the situation is. I go from there, pitch to pitch. You have to find what you trust with your hands, and let your eyes tell you what you’re looking for.
“I talk with Derrick May, our hitting coordinator, about [plate coverage] a lot, about how the best guys, even though they look like they can handle every pitch every time, that’s definitely not the case. That’s not to say you won’t sometimes go outside of your approach and put a good swing on the ball. With hitting you have to give to get.”
On mechanics and keeping it simple: “I try to make sure my balance always stays on point. My power numbers went up this year, and that was based on me seeing more pitches, being a little more comfortable in the box, and just trusting what I have.
“Sometimes, as hitters we can complicate things by hearing too many mechanical things. We end up losing our strengths. So I just try to go back to what my strengths are, and whatever people might write about [my mechanics], it’s good to know I’m figuring out day by day what James Ramsey really looks like.”
On his spray chart: “I’d be interested to see what it looks like. When I’m going well, it’s sprayed pretty well to all fields. Looking at my extra-base hits here in the Fall League, they’ve been to all fields. I like to think my strength is the other way, but a lot of my hits come pull side, just based letting my hands do what my eyes are telling them.
“The majority of my home runs are the other way. This year, I think 10 or 11 of the 16 were from opposite field to center field. That’s something that kind of evolves. I know I have the power to hit opposite field home runs, so it’s just a matter of picking my spots to go pull side — really start looking in for a fastball and doing damage with it.
“Part of the chess game is being able to go to all fields. That way, there’s not one consistent thing a pitcher can do to get a hitter out. Hitting in the one- and two-holes a lot this year, I was trying to just let my natural swing play, and get on base for the guys behind me.”
On earning an opportunity: “[Springfield manager] Mike Shildt has been very influential in my career. Being a four-sport athlete in high school, and a big-time college player, a lot of times when you’re faced with failure… it’s very uncommon. It’s important to have someone holding you accountable and not be afraid to tell you when you’re doing something that can be improved upon. It’s been great to have people like that around, challenging me to be the best. In an organization like ours, it’s not a matter of just getting to the big leagues, it’s a matter of getting there and helping the team get World Series rings.
“Watching the World Series was a great motivator. One of the cool things was having played with some of those guys during spring training games, and getting to know the coaching staff. I’m very comfortable with the expectations. A lot of people might look at the World Series as, ‘Man, that’s so far away, and so tough.’ I look at it as a great reward for going through the process the right way. The Cardinals instill that in you. They prepare you, so when the time comes — and I think it will be sooner rather than later — I’ll be ready.”