At the moment, Ramirez is the best pitcher on the Reading staff, if not in the entire Eastern League.
Despite his first poor start of the season, Thursday against New Hampshire, he still has a minuscule 1.86 ERA.
His successful start can partly be attributed to good health.
"He pitched with a hip injury most of [last] year, and a lot of players would have gone on the disabled list and just shut it down for the year and regrouped for this year," LaMar said. "The doctors were convinced he wasn't going to do any more damage, and to his credit he continued to pitch and continued the learning process."
The final result was a painful 5.45 ERA in 13 starts with Reading after going 4-3 with a 4.06 ERA at single-A Clearwater. As soon as the season ended, Ramirez had hip surgery.
"I had an extra bone in my hip and it was broken, so they shaved it and they repaired the broken part," Ramirez said. "I know I had to battle through it last year because this is my career. I wanted to keep pitching and I felt like I could do it."
After an offseason of intense rehab work, Ramirez said, this is the strongest he has ever felt.
"It is a huge difference," Ramirez said. "Now I can push off and get on top of the ball because my lower body is strong. I'm comfortable with my legs. I'm completely healthy, and I just worry about the hitters and throwing the ball down."
At the time of the Lee trade in December 2009, Ramirez was the least known and least accomplished of the three players acquired by the Phillies. Phillippe Aumont was a former first-round draft pick who had been ranked as high as 83d among Baseball America's top 100 prospects. Tyson Gillies was coming off a season in the California League in which he hit .341 and stole 44 bases. Ramirez, on the other hand, had just completed an 8-10 season with a 5.12 ERA in the California League.
"From a scouting standpoint, he was as big a part of that deal as the other two," LaMar said.
At the moment, he appears to be the closest to the big leagues, although Aumont has rebounded impressively in a relief role at Reading this season.
Ramirez said it was not just a hip problem that caused him to struggle at times last year.
"I think last year I had too much pressure in my mind because I was part of a big trade," Ramirez said. "I felt like I had to show everything I had in less time. This year I take everything under control."
All three of the players in the Lee deal were invited to major-league spring training in 2010, but this year only Ramirez had a locker in the Bright House Field clubhouse. The 22-year-old righthander made a point to say hello to Lee early in spring training.
"He smiled and then we started talking about mechanics and how he prepared for each start," Ramirez said.
As impressive as Ramirez's statistics look after five starts, the one category that is lagging is strikeouts. He has six in 282/3 innings, a low number, especially for a guy whose fastball is in the mid-90s.
"For any young pitcher in the minor leagues, when you see strikeouts for the most part you know he has a breaking ball," LaMar said. "It's really hard no matter how good an arm you have to consistently just throw the ball by people. Right now, for J.C., that's the work in progress.
"There has been so much improvement on his mechanics, his downward plane, command of his fastball, and command of himself on the mound," LaMar continued. "The secondary stuff is the last piece for a lot of young power pitchers, and that's what he is. He has a great arm. He's one of those kids who throws the ball easy at 94 to 96, and there might be more there. The development of his secondary stuff will determine how quickly and how good he's going to be."
Ramirez said he has been a little concerned about his slider, but the Phillies want him to first master the command of his fastball.
"I was worried a little bit because my strikeout pitch, my slider, is not working well," Ramirez said. "But I'm pitching to contact and I can see the hitters are not hitting the ball hard. I have had a lot of ground balls and weak fly balls."
And he has won over his manager and the assistant general manager with his work ethic, including his desire to learn English. Ramirez is a native of Nicaragua, as is former Phillies pitcher Vicente Padilla.
In six seasons in Philadelphia, Padilla never felt comfortable conversing in English. In his second season in Reading, Ramirez speaks his second language fluently.
Now he's hoping to master his craft so he can soon practice it in Philadelphia.
Singleton a hit in the outfield for Clearwater
(Advanced single-A, 19-9, second place, Florida State League North Division.)
Since Ryan Howard is signed through 2016 with a club option in 2017, one of the Phillies' best young prospects, Jonathan Singleton, is now making the transition from first base to left field at Clearwater. Singleton, who will turn 20 in September, hit .290 with 14 home runs and 77 RBIs last season for Lakewood. He also had a .393 on-base percentage.
Entering the weekend, Singleton was batting .310 with one home run and nine RBIs in 58 at-bats while having a .420 on-base percentage.
"He is doing fine and jumped into left field as we thought he would, and it's always a work in progress, but there is no question in our minds he can handle it," said Chuck LaMar, Phillies assistant general manager in charge of player development and scouting. "He twisted his ankle a couple of weeks ago and has been in and out of the lineup, and while he is making contact he still hasn't got into a real groove, but we feel he will be."
Former pitcher Joe Savery continues to swing a hot bat for Clearwater, entering the weekend hitting .433 (42 for 97) with one home run and 13 RBIs.
(Double-A, 16-10, tied for first place, Eastern League Eastern Division.)
Righthander reliever Phillippe Aumont is referred to by LaMar as among the most improved players in the minor-league system. He had a disappointing first season mainly as a starter after being acquired in the 2009 Cliff Lee trade from Seattle.
Entering the weekend, the 6-foot-7 Aumont was 0-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 10 appearances. He had two saves and a 0.67 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). In 12 innings, he had struck out 16 and walked four.
"He came in the best condition of his career and that has carried over to an outstanding start at Reading," LaMar said. "He is big and strong with two above-average pitches, a fastball and curve, and his change-up is getting better."
(Triple-A, 15-12, second place, International League North Division.)
Rightfielder Domonic Brown was 5 for 13 with one RBI in his first three games for Lehigh Valley. Brown, who broke the hamate bone in his right hand on March 5 in a spring training game, began his rehabilitation by going 7 for 19 at Clearwater before moving to Lehigh Valley.
LaMar won't attempt to guess if or when Brown will be called up to the Phillies, saying that it's the decision of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
"Domonic missed a lot of at-bats in August and September because the major-league club needed him, and then he got hurt early in spring training, so he needs at-bats," LaMar said.
While LaMar won't speculate on a potential promotion to Philadelphia, he said that Brown will have to do more than just get in baseball shape in the minors.
"He will have to perform," LaMar said. "He has to earn the right to come up."
Notes: Outfielder Tyson Gillies, out with hamstring problems since last August, is expected to start playing in extended spring training games at some point either later this month or in early June, LaMar said. Gillies, Aumont, and pitcher J.C. Ramirez were acquired in the 2009 Cliff Lee trade with Seattle.
- Marc Narducci
Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/brookob