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Saturday, January 04, 2014

Finding fun with his friends

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Despite a light but annoyingly persistent rain that fell on Terry Park throughout the morning and well into the afternoon on Saturday, the world in which Milton Ramos was living in was all sunshine and rainbows.

Ramos wasn’t in some sort of psychotic state of denial on a chilly, gray morning. It’s just that when Ramos is at the old ball yard – and any old ball yard will do just fine – notions of doom and gloom quickly evaporate into the clouds.

“I just love being out here and having fun with my friends,” he told PG Saturday morning. “I love being with my friends and there’s nothing better than playing baseball and being with your friends because you only live this life once. These two days are going to be really fun and it should be interesting just coming out and putting on a show.”

Ramos and about 180 of his closest friends are at Terry Park this weekend for the 18th rendition of the Perfect Game World Showcase. Roughly 210 other aspiring prospects are here to participate in the 2014 PG World Uncommitted Showcase and the 2014 PG National Underclass Showcase-Session 3, which also run Saturday and Sunday.

Throughout its long run, the PG World Showcase has provided the perfect mid-winter getaway for many of the top high school seniors – and to lesser extent, several juniors – from across the country, Puerto Rico and Canada. It’s an opportunity for them to perform in front of a very representative gathering of MLB front office personnel and the scouting community and a lot of those eyes this weekend will be on Ramos.

He is a 6-foot-2, 165-pound primary shortstop and middle-infielder from Hialeah, Fla., who is ranked the No. 31 overall national prospect in the class of 2014 and is regarded as a top-five shortstop prospect in his class. He is also projected as a top-90 overall prospect in the upcoming 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Considered one of the finer defensive shortstops in the 2014 class, Ramos showed off those skills at the PG National Underclass Showcase-Session 3 and the Perfect Game National Showcase, as well as the East Coast Professional Showcase in the last year.

He also played in several tournaments for head coach Jered Goodwin and FTB Chandler during the summer and the fall, and was named to the all-tournament teams at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship and the 18u PG BCS Finals.

“His feel for the game defensively is just crazy,” Goodwin said Saturday. “He puts himself in good situations, plays himself in good hops and he’s got plenty of arm strength to play that position.”

And, most importantly perhaps, Ramos has also started to show some real progress at the plate.

“The one thing that he really did over the summer was really buy into the approach we were trying to teach with him: keeping his feet in the ground and making sure he knew he’s a fast kid so he didn’t have to run out of the box as he was swinging,” Goodwin said. “As soon as he did that, he really swung it for us, too. “

Ramos was born in Colombia but immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 6 years old. He started playing baseball shortly after getting acclimated to life in the States.

“My dad used to play softball and I picked up the bat one day and I just fell in love with the game,” he said. “I’m very, very happy with how I’m doing right now; I’m not going to try to do too much because that’s not my game. My game is line drives in the gaps; I’m not going to try (and) bomb the ball out.”

The tremendous strides Ramos made this summer occurred right in line with his association with FTB. Scouts and college recruiters – he is committed to Florida Atlantic – took note of not only his improved play but an improved level of confidence.

“He really works hard; he’s a very energetic kid,” Goodwin said. “Every day you know you’re getting the same kid when he’s out there. This is what he loves to do and no one questions that this is what he loves to do and it’s fun to be around.”

Sometimes an increased awareness of a strong work ethic and attention to details within a young ballplayer comes directly from the other players he is surrounded by, and Goodwin was certainly able to surround Ramos with many of the very best in 2013. Chief among them is another top-notch shortstop in attendance here, 2014 No. 2-ranked Nick Gordon out of Windermere, Fla.

Ramos rattled off the names of top prospects like Gordon, Tyrone Perry, Keshawn Lynch and Juan Hillman, among others, who are all seniors or juniors at several different Florida high schools but who have become good friends as teammates at FTB and through their involvement in events like the PG World Showcase. Those four and Ramos were all assigned to the PG Steel team at this weekend’s showcase.

But it is Gordon –the winner of the 2013 Jackie Robinson Award and the son of former big-league pitcher Tom “Flash” Gordon – who Ramos seems to have developed the tightest bond with while the two manned the middle of the infield for FTB Chandler in 2013.

“Me and Nick, we’re like brothers now,” Ramos said. “When we first started playing together we were really trying to go at it, but after awhile we were just like, ‘Man, let’s just have fun,’ and once we started having fun nothing went through the infield. Coach Jered helped us out, too, because he’d put one at short and one at second; me and Nick are like brothers now.”

Goodwin said the two often exchange what he calls “fun-loving trash talk” and compared them to former FTB Mizuno standouts Daniel Vogelbach and Tyler Marlette, who played together for Goodwin in 2010 and 2011. But he was quick to point out that Ramos and Gordon are also each other’s biggest fans who feed off each other when they’re on the field or in the lineup together.

“The more trash we talk the better we get, because we really try to go at it,” Ramos said. “I know Nick has got a lot stronger arm than me but I’m like, ‘OK, you’ve got a real strong arm but I’ve got better hands’ ... and we go at it and it just makes us better players.

“Everything is a battle but by the end of the day we’re best friends and family,” he continued. “Once we step over the lines we’re doing our jobs but once we step back over the lines we’re best friends, joking around; it’s a good relationship.”

Having already played in front of hundreds of scouts at events like the PG WWBA World Championship, Perfect Game National Showcase and the East Coast Pro Showcase, Ramos probably didn’t have to be at the PG World Showcase this weekend – but not being here is simply not in the DNA of prospects like Ramos. And those are the kind of players Goodwin wants in his FTB program.

 “I tell people all the time, with (players) like Milton and Nick Gordon, they don’t turn stuff down like this,” he said. “Players that play for a long time, they go out and they want to compete everywhere they go, so when you have a group like this with so many talented players coming out here … they’re like, ‘Heck yeah, a lot of people are coming out, let’s go play.’

“Even when I talk to scouts, they’ll tell you those are the guys that make it; they don’t hide from anybody. You’re going to see some flaws, you’re going to see some good things, and at the end of the day you’re going to see the competitiveness. That’s certainly what Milton has. He wants to come out here, he wants to show people what he can do, and he’s going to have fun doing it.”

Goodwin calls Ramos a “coachable kid” who readily bought into what he and the FTB organization were selling. He said Ramos’ biggest need right now is building strength, and that’s something the 18-year-old senior at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla., should develop as he continues to mature and fill out. With added strength comes added bat speed, which will also help Ramos as he gets prepares to move up from the high school level.

Ramos is thrilled with his commitment to Florida Atlantic but there is no looking past the 2014 MLB amateur draft at which Ramos seems certain to be an early round draft pick. But he doesn’t dwell on the draft or the thought of earning a paycheck playing baseball – not yet, anyway. That would take some of the fun out of the game, the kind of fun he finds playing with his friends.

“I don’t (think about the draft), because that just puts pressure on me,” he said. “I just let it be and whatever happens, happens because only God can choose what happens. If I go up in the rankings that’s a blessing because I have been working hard and I guess that’s showing now.

 “Every time is a blessing to be out here because, like I say, you only live this game once. Being out here right now is like a blessing because I just come and have fun and it always comes out good.”

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