Chris McCosky | The Detroit News
Lakeland, Fla. — He earned his second All-Star berth at age 30, just three years ago. As recently as 2010, he was plus-10 defender behind the plate. As recently as 2015, he threw out base-stealers at a 44 percent clip. His pop time to second base, last year, at age 32 in what he admits was a down year for him, was 1.9 seconds — well above average.
So, what, did Wilson Ramos forget how to be a full-time, reliable, everyday catcher in his two seasons with the Mets? How did he go from plus-10 to minus-11 in defensive runs saved in four years?
“Yeah, I don’t focus too much on what other people have said,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Saturday. “I like to use my own eyes.”
And his eyes like what they’ve seen so far. There are early signs of Ramos being more like the catcher he was in 2018, the day-in, day-out catcher the Tigers signed for $2 million and entrusted with their mostly young pitching staff.
“The experience was very important for us,” Hinch said. “We were in on a couple of different catchers (Jason Castro and Alex Avila among them) and when we got to Wilson, he handled right-handed pitching from an offensive standpoint very well — above the rest of the group.
“But then when you talk about the motivation he had…We like the chip on his shoulder. We like that he wants to get back to being an everyday catcher.”
The difference between Ramos the All-Star in 2018 and Ramos the platoon player last year, pure and simple, was a matter of maybe 30 pounds. At one point the 6-1 Ramos weighed close to 275 pounds. These days, he’s down to 245, the same as he weighed in 2018.
Hinch noticed, well before the Tigers made him an offer. He was impressed by the workout videos a much leaner Ramos was posting on Instagram during the offseason.
“Being an avid follower on social media, I can check in on some of these guys,” Hinch said. “He was working out in a place in Miami. It happened to be the same place as Miggy (Cabrera) but I have history with Ricardo Sosa who runs that academy down there and I watched the videos that Sosa was putting out.
“You could see from the workouts, Ramos trimmed up a little bit and was doing a ton of strength training.”
You can call it a chip on his shoulder. Ramos is a proud man. He didn’t much like platooning last season with the Mets. He didn’t much like how his body looked or felt with that much weight, and he hated how it impacted his ability to catch a game.
“Right now I am just working on having a comeback behind the plate,” Ramos said on Saturday. “In the past, I was really good behind the plate, but the past two years I’ve been a little bit slow, not able to move too well sideways. It motivated me to lose the weight, to come back stronger and more agile behind the plate.
“That’s what I want. I want to come back as a good catcher.”
His focus thus far has been lasered on the defensive side. He’s taken his swings with the rest of the catchers this week, but he feels like he did the bulk of his offensive work in the offseason.
“I’m not paying too much attention on my swing or on my hitting skills,” he said. “I’m just concentrating this spring on working hard behind the plate. That’s what I want to do right now and I feel good. A couple of pounds off and it helps me block the ball better, move sideways better and I’m able to get better in a squat position.
“I lost a lot of weight but at the same time, I feel strong. I feel healthy. There’s less pressure on my knees and that helps me feel better.”
Hinch said the feedback from the pitchers has been positive. They love the big target he presents and the knowledge only a catcher with nearly 900 big-league games under his belt can bring.
“The key for him is to continue to work on (catching) the low pitch,” Hinch said. “He goes to one knee (on his set-up) now as he’s getting a little older, in trying to get below the pitch…I know the data, but his command of the pitching staff, his involvement in the catchers’ early work, he’s been exceptional.”
Ramos had the worst offensive season of his career last year (.239/.297/.387), but he also had fewer at-bats and games played than in any season since 2012. In his mind, there is a cause-and-effect there.
“The short season affected me a lot,” he said. “I like to play every day. I’m very consistent when I play every day.”
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Case in point — 2019. At age 31, he played in 141 games (124 behind the plate) and slashed .288/.352/.416 with 106 OPS-plus.
“Last year they (Mets) just gave me the opportunity to play every other day; I can’t be consistent like that,” he said. “I like to play every day. I am more consistent when I play every day. And I will show everybody that when I play every day.
“I’ve come back strong, healthy, very light. I want to show everybody I can play every day.”
The Tigers will certainly give him that chance. Hinch has made it clear that Ramos is the regular catcher. Jake Rogers, Grayson Greiner and Dustin Garneau are battling for one backup spot.
“He’s got experience, he’s got a presence and he has a history of catching really good pitching and in playoff games,” Hinch said. “He has so much to give to a team and a young pitching staff. And he’s got an edge to him. I don’t think we’re going to have to look too hard to find an edge to this team.
“You look at how serious Ramos takes the day-to-day work. I mean, he’ll laugh and have a good time with his teammates, but when it’s time to work, he’s a true lunch-pail go-to-work guy. He was the best fit for us.”