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Originally published Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 2:49 PM

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Larry Stone

Worldwide scouting web nets Mariners a top prospect

Pitcher Erasmo Ramirez is a rising Mariners' star, one who will arrive in Arizona later this month to participate in the instructional league.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

The 2009 statistics of Mariners' pitching prospect Erasmo Ramirez leap off the page: 11-1 record, 0.51 earned-run-average, .174 opponents batting average.

And especially this: 80 strikeouts, and just five walks, in 88 innings. Yes, five walks.

"Pretty remarkable," chuckled Bob Engle, the Mariners' vice president of international operations. "It looks like what they called in my day a typo."

True, Ramirez put up those stats pitching this year in the Venezuelan Summer League, one of the lowest rungs of professional baseball.

But those numbers at any level are guaranteed to open eyes — including mine. There's no doubt Ramirez is a rising star in the Mariners' system, one who will arrive in Arizona later this month to participate in the instructional league. It's a first taste of baseball in the states that's being greatly anticipated within the organization.

I decided to call up Engle to find out the story behind Ramirez, about whom all I knew was the basics contained in the Mariners' media guide: 19 years old, born in Rivas, Nicaragua, right-handed, 5 feet 11, 180 pounds, signed on Sept. 1, 2007, by Engle and Mariners scout Ubaldo Heredia.

Nicaragua is not known for producing baseball talent. The most famous, by far, is Dennis Martinez, El Presidente, who won 245 games in the majors, one of them during a brief, ill-fated 1997 stint with the Mariners. Pitcher Vicente Padilla of the Dodgers and Everth Cabrera of the Padres, a shortstop, are the only active players I know from Nicaragua.

I had a hunch Ramirez had an interesting story. I was right. Turns out that as a youngster, at age 12, he left Nicaragua and went off to school in San Salvador, El Salvador — a country even less noted for its baseball.

But a remarkable man named Jorge Bahaia had started an academy in San Salvador called FESA — Fundacion Educando A Un Salvadoreno (translated on its website as Foundation Educating to a Salvadorean). The goal is to give elite athletes in both baseball and soccer concentrated training in their sports, but also an education that might not have been otherwise possible.

"We give them academic support, training in health and nutrition, and we work on values," said Bahaia, whom I reached in San Salvador with help from Engle.

Bahaia, who played baseball at Gulliver Prep in Miami in 1983 and graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in business and finance, returned after college to El Salvador, where his family is in the textile business.

"I said I needed to give something back to the community, because I had been so blessed by God," he said. "With a group of friends, we started this program. It's very, very satisfying to see how we can change lives by investing in education and sports."

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About six years ago, Bahaia said, he received a call from a friend regarding Ramirez, who was just turning 13.

"He told me Erasmo was a good kid from Nicaragua who wanted to study, play, learn and succeed. He wanted to apply for a scholarship to our program."

Ramirez was accepted and thrived immediately, both in the classroom and on the ballfield.

"He had a good arm, an average arm," Bahaia said. "Credit the kid — he has been working very hard. Our coaches tried as much as possible to give him all the tools to help his mechanics. We sent him to several baseball camps so he could improve his skills."

Over his years in Latin America, Engle had developed a friendship with Bahaia, and checks in every so often to see if he has any prospects. Bahaia told him about Ramirez, whom the Mariners signed after watching him excel at a tournament in St. Martin.

"He's a very dedicated young man," Engle said.

In 2008, pitching as an 18-year-old in Venezuela, Ramirez was 4-1 with a 2.86 ERA. And then this year, with little advance warming, he exploded, earning the Most Valuable Player Award in the Venezuelan Summer League.

"First, he has very good command of all his pitches," Engle said. "His fastball is average to slightly above, with good movement, and he keeps it down. His breaking stuff has to improve as he moves up the ladder. He's the type of kid, you can see he has a goal, or objective, in his mind. He's a very serious kid."

And, according to Pedro Grifol, the Mariners' director of minor-league operations, he has made a very serious impression on the organization.

"No question, any time you put together a year like he has, you're a top prospect, regardless of the repertoire he has or doesn't have," Grifol said. "He has good stuff; I'm not saying that. But putting all physical ability aside, any time you go out and perform like he has, you're going to be one of our top kids."

Grifol acknowledged that Ramirez was not prominent on the Mariners' radar heading into this summer.

"He's got good stuff, and it all came together at once," Grifol said. "He's got great aptitude, and the ability to apply instruction immediately. He fields his position, he does everything right on the mound. He's a strike-throwing machine with deception."

Grifol likens Ramirez to Doug Fister, which might disappoint those Mariner fans who were hoping for a comparison to, say, Felix Hernandez. But as Engle alluded, he doesn't possess overpowering stuff.

"He throws about average," Grifol said. "Everything he's got is average, nothing above or below. But here's a guy with average stuff and above-average command. We all know if you have that, you'll pitch in the big leagues a long time.

"The bottom line is, pitching is disrupting timing, and deception. This kid disrupts timing and he's very deceptive. You can't see the ball. There's a lot there. We're anxious to see him come here to the states in instructional league with the kids here, and against other clubs, to see if he can continue to do the same thing. Which we have no doubt he can."

Erasmo Ramirez. Remember the name.

"He's a very nice kid, a quiet kid," said Bahaia. "But inside, he's very concentrated. He knows what he wants."

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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