July 11, 2014
By Brian Rice
KODAK, Tenn. -- The Tampa Bay Rays organization stood by Matt Ramsey.
The team selected the former Tennessee Volunteer and Knoxville native in the 19th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Amateur draft, knowing that an arm injury would require Tommy John surgery and delay the start of his professional career by at least a year.
The Rays brought him along slowly at first, allowing him to debut in rookie ball the following year in the Gulf Coast League. He made 11 appearances in 2012 for the GCL Rays, finishing with a 2-1 record and an impressive 1.98 ERA. He split the 2013 season between the Rays' A-level team in Bowling Green, Kentucky and the Advanced-A team in Charlotte before earning a spot on the opening day roster of the AA Montgomery Biscuits in 2014.
The rise through the ranks may seem natural, but for a pitching prospect, the timeline of the progression could be considered meteoric. Those facts made it all the more curious when Tampa Bay dealt Ramsey to the Miami Marlins on July 7.
"It's a weird feeling," Ramsey said. "When I first got the news from my manager in Montgomery, I thought it was a joke, I didn't know what to think. You're saying goodbye to a whole team that you've been with all year, then to meet a whole new group of guys and being in a different organization."
The trade itself was also a little untraditional. The Marlins gave up three international bonus slots, figures that go into a pool of money that the club can use to sign international prospects, in exchange for Ramsey.
In the long term, the trade could help speed up Ramsey's ascent in the pro baseball ranks, a tough task considering how brisk the journey already has been. In the immediate term, it allowed him to spend a little more time in the area where his baseball career blossomed.
Ramsey won a state championship at Farragut High School before a distinguished career both on the mound and at the plate at Tennessee. But after establishing himself as Tennessee's closer as a sophomore in 2010, Ramsey's junior season on the hill was cut short after an arm injury in early April that limited him to nine appearances. At the plate, he appeared in 33 games with a .229 average before the injury.
But as a minor leaguer, Ramsey hadn't even played in the state of Tennessee until this season. That changed on June 29 when the Biscuits visited the Tennessee Smokies. He didn't appear in the first game of the series, but threw the final three innings of game two to pick up his third win of the season by allowing just one hit while striking out four. Three days later, he struck out three in a pair of scoreless frames in a 16-inning marathon, a 4-3 win for the Biscuits.
Following the trade to Jacksonville, Ramsey was in Florida just long enough to make his debut for the Suns, two innings of hitless relief in a 3-2 loss, before boarding the bus for East Tennessee once again for a Jacksonville five-game series against the Smokies.
Back at home in Tennessee, if only for a few days, is a great experience for Ramsey and for the family, friends and fans that helped in building his career. But it's just another gift that the game of baseball has given him.
"It's been a pretty neat experience, playing with guys from all over the world," Ramsey said of moving up in the baseball world. "It's a neat experience and you see guys from all walks of life. The competition is definitely better, you just have to go out and do your thing."