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Cleveland taking a chance on speedy outfielder Harold Ramirez

Ramirez missed most of 2020 with a COVID-19 diagnosis and devastating hamstring injury

Baltimore Orioles v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Outfielder Harold Ramirez has been claimed off waivers by Cleveland, according to the team’s insider Twitter account. Ramirez was designated for assignment by the Marlins on Feb. 17.

Ramirez, 26, is one of the fastest players in baseball, ranking in the 92nd percentile in sprint speed in 2019. He’s not built like your typical speedy outfielder — he’s not a thin, leggy monster like Bradley Zimmer or a finely tuned Byron Buxton. Instead, he’s 5’10”, 232 pounds, and just makes it work. He’s not necessarily a base-stealer, though, and his early metrics on defense aren’t great. But he’s played a split amount of time between all three outfield spots and could provide speed off the bench with at least a little upside buried deep within him.

There was a time when he was using his speed to rack up wRC+’s in the 130-150 range in the minors, but that pure speed and good BABIP luck hasn’t carried him so far in the majors. With the Marlins in 2019, he slashed .276/.312/.416 with 11 home runs — and that was with a .328 BABIP.

His Statcast measurements paint a picture of an Ichiro-type slap hitter at his best. Not the turn-of-the-century Ichiro that made contact with everything, but the one nearly 20 years later that finished 2017 a little slower, a little worse at identifying pitches, and slowly playing his way out of the league. ZiPS projects him to have a .253/.296/.372 slash if given ample playing time in 2021.

No matter what happens with Ramirez this year, it will surely be better than his 2020 campaign. Bad luck robbed him of almost the entire season when, just two games in, he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and wasn’t able to return to the team for weeks. When he did return, he suffered a season-ending hamstring strain in his first game back and was placed on the injured list shortly after.

Over at our Marlins sister site Fish Stripes, it was pointed out that Ramirez’s approach seemed to be improving towards the end of 2019 when he was getting the ball in the air more and giving himself a chance with his legs. The hope is that he can get back to that after missing so much time last year.

Defensively Ramirez has been unimpressive in a small major-league sample. However, it’s worth noting that Baseball America’s scouting report of him said he lost a step in center field and would play better in a corner spot:

Ramirez is an unconventional player, starting with his compact frame. He ran well enough early in his career to play center field, though he’s lost a step and now fits best in a corner.

FanGraphs had the same thing to say in their brief mention of Ramirez as a Blue Jays prospect in 2018. That all aligns with his lackluster measurements in 2019 despite his elite speed.

He is, essentially, a very low-odds lottery ticket that Cleveland gets for nothing. He could be spring training fodder and gone before the season starts, he could provide decent fourth outfielder depth that the team has lacked for some time now, or he could rediscover his power stroke and suddenly have two elite tools in the outfield.

He’ll provide some flare in the Arizona sun for the next month either way.

To make room for Ramirez on the 40-man roster, Cleveland has designated reliever Jordan Humphreys for assignment. Humphreys, acquired via a waiver claim back in November, has only thrown two professional innings since Tommy John surgery in 2017. With how many relievers Cleveland has — and how many more they can seemingly conjure out of nowhere — he’s an easy target to cut just a week into spring training.