Twins want Ramos to grow at Triple-A

Twins want Ramos to grow at Triple-A

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A day later, many in Twins camp were still crowing about the home run Wilson Ramos crushed over the batter's eye in center field at Hammond Stadium. And they were crowing also about Ramos himself, a top catching prospect who hit .400 in big league camp and made a striking impression upon the organization.

His reward? A trip back to the Minors.

The Twins sent Ramos to Triple-A Rochester on Wednesday, ending speculation that he might open the season as Joe Mauer's caddy. Rather than spell Mauer once or twice per week, Ramos will play every day in the Minors.

"I don't know if we've ever, in my time as manager, lamented over one as tough as we have this one," manager Ron Gardenhire said of the decision. "It was really hard for everybody involved, because he made it really hard. He's played really well."

In place of Ramos, Drew Butera made the club as the backup catcher.

"They say I'm ready to play in the big leagues, but they don't want to send me to the big leagues to play one day per week," Ramos said. "They want me to keep playing every day, so they sent me to Triple-A for that reason."

Ramos, 22, spent all spring impressing the Twins with his rare combination of defensive ability and power potential. Ranked as the organization's best power hitter and best defensive catcher by Baseball America, Ramos hit .317 with four home runs in 54 games for Double-A New Britain last season.

In another organization, he may have long since been named the starting catcher. But the Twins have Mauer, widely considered the best backstop in the game, whom they just inked to an eight-year, $184 million contract extension.

"He signed a pretty good contract," Ramos said. "I know I'm not playing in front of him, but I'm ready to play."

Gardenhire has not masked his desire to keep Ramos, a superior overall player than Butera, on the roster. But the front office feared that having Ramos sit on the big league bench would hinder his development, whereas starting at Triple-A may enhance it.

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"He needs to play," general manager Bill Smith said. "He needs to play every day, and we think it would be a disservice to keep him sitting. He's got a bright, bright future."

Gardenhire understood.

"You try to do the right thing for the kid and the organization," Gardenhire said. "It's hard. This was really hard. But you always have to look at the bigger picture too here: him getting at-bats and getting ready."

In Butera, 26, the Twins have a rookie known more for his glove -- and "cannon" arm, according to Gardenhire -- than his bat. Butera hit .214 with two home runs in 99 games in Rochester last season, but he threw out 42 percent of would-be basestealers. That is all the Twins want out of a backup catcher who, if all goes well, will not often see the field.

Whereas Butera profiles as a lifelong backup, Ramos has the tools and makeup to be a Major League starter, perhaps even an All-Star. The Twins realize that he could probably help them more than Butera. But they are not willing to risk his development.

And there is another factor. Because Mauer will remain in Minneapolis for at least the next nine seasons, it is extremely unlikely that Ramos will stay with the Twins. Having him play every day at Triple-A will better allow the Twins to showcase Ramos for potential trading partners -- perhaps even in a deal to replace injured closer Joe Nathan.

"I don't know if they'll trade me to another team because Joe Nathan had surgery and they need a closer," Ramos said. "I don't know if they'd trade me for a closer. I want to play in the big leagues. For me, this is my year to play in the big leagues."

Keeping Ramos confined to the Minors will enhance his trade value not only by aiding his development, but also by keeping his Major League service time at zero. The less service time a player has, the further he is from arbitration and the more attractive he becomes in trade talks.

Plus, the need for development is real. One good spring does not necessarily mean a 22-year-old prospect is ready for the big leagues. And both Smith and Gardenhire made certain to note that Ramos, who sped through three Minor League levels as a teenager, has played just 54 games above Class A.

"This is all about getting him at-bats and continuing his development," Smith said. "He still has work to do. He still has room to grow and improve, and that wasn't going to happen if he's only playing once a week."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.