BRADENTON -- The effusive praise for Harold Ramirez around the Marauders never ended in 2015 because he never gave it a reason to stop. For basically three months, the Colombian outfielder took the Florida State League by storm.
He was launching triples into the corners of McKechnie Field and taking away extra-base hits with his sometimes unorthodox routes and boundless energy.
He was getting on base almost every night, and once he did he was always a threat to take another. His numbers were eye-popping, which the Pirates saw, and his play was breathtaking.
"His bat, man, it's hot. It stays hot," said catcher Reese McGuire, who played with Ramirez last year in Bradenton. "He's a special player. He's so fun to watch."
The Pirates' spring training roster this year is marked by youth, and specifically youth on the brink of the majors.
Ramirez isn't quite there -- he didn't play anywhere but Class A Advanced last year -- so he's had to settle for being one of those late-inning stars at McKechnie. He collected another hit during Pittsburgh's 1-0 loss to the Phillies on Monday in Bradenton, bring
ing his Grapefruit League average up to .545 in six games.
Ramirez has hit everywhere he's gone and as the stages have grown larger his production has followed.
When he was actually on the field for the Marauders, Ramirez was one of the best hitters in the Florida State League. An early-season injury and a mid-season trip to Canada for the 2015 Pan American Games limited the outfielder to 80 games for Bradenton and left him 34 plate appearances shy of qualifying for the batting title.
His .337 average would have led the league. So would his .399 on-base percentage and .857 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Even if he had gone 0 for 34 to make up the missing plate appearances, he would've finished in the top five in batting average, slugging percentage, OBP and OPS. Give him four more hits and 21 more total bases and he leads the league in all four categories.
"I think this year I can make it," Ramirez said in his improving English. "Always, I try to play hard. You don't know what will happen in the game when you play hard."
At the Pan Am Games, Ramirez went 7 for 21 for Colombia while primarily serving as the team's No. 3 hitter. His numbers for Bradenton last season were the best of his young career, and in his first spring training he's gone 6 for 11 with a double and a walk. He's hit safely in five straight games.
He spent the offseason playing for Venados de Mazatlan in the Mexican Pacific League, and he'll play for Colombia at World Baseball Classic qualifying in Panama later this month.
"I feel more experienced because they have a lot of big leaguers, they throw a lot of sliders," Ramirez said.
Ramirez and McGuire are likely still at least a year away from their MLB shot, but they provide some of the young depth, which has been on display this spring. Alen Hanson, a shortstop-turned-second baseman, and first baseman Josh Bell both played for Triple A Indianapolis last season and have a chance to crack the major league roster. Throw in Ramirez, McGuire, and pitchers Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow to give the Pirates five top-100 prospects, according to Baseball America, at spring training.
Manager Clint Hurdle has noticed.
Hanson, the one prospect in that group outside the top 100, has matched Ramirez's batting average and could be a factor in the majors this season.
Hurdle wasn't around at the end of Pittsburgh's rebuild, when young talent flooded Bradenton. He's now getting to see what it's like when the Pirates can reload from within.
"This is the most near-ready group we've had since Clint's been here, both on the mound and position-player group," general manager Neal Huntington said. "You go back to the (Andrew) McCutchen, (Neil) Walker -- that was a fun group as well when you think about what they can become."