LAKEWOOD, N.J. — Two years ago at this time, Ramon Rosso was buried in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system. As a teenager in July 2015, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound native of the Dominican Republic received a $62,000 signing bonus after the Dodgers watched him pitch for CB Barcelona during a tournament in Spain, the homeland of Rosso's father, Ramon.
But he never pitched an inning for a Dodgers minor-league affiliate and was released a year later.
"They let me go because I wasn't pitching well," Rosso said Monday through an interpreter after his latest dominating performance for the Lakewood BlueClaws, the Phillies' low-A affiliate. "I was a bit sad and disappointed."
The Phillies scouted Rosso before he signed with the Dodgers. In fact, they offered him $30,000 to sign. But they were under the impression he wanted to be an outfielder, and they did not think he hit well enough to play the position. Once the Dodgers released him, however, Phillies Dominican Republic scout Luis Garcia got back in contact with the righthander. A throwing session in front of Phillies international scouting director Sal Agostinelli was arranged.
"We brought him into camp, and here's this big dude with this nice-looking body, and he got on the mound, and he was throwing 93 to 95 with a good slider," Agositinelli said during a phone interview. "I was told he topped out at 88 to 90 when he was with the Dodgers. Sometimes, guys just mature at a different rate."
The Phillies signed Rosso in January 2017.
"When I was released by the Dodgers, I used that as motivation to show that I could really throw," Rosso said.
In his time with his new organization, Rosso has proven to be a pitcher with a realistic big-league dream. In fact, the 21-year-old has been the best pitcher in the South Atlantic League this season. After allowing one unearned run on five hits and striking out 11 on Monday night against Pittsburgh's West Virginia Power affiliate, Rosso's ERA was a league-low 0.93 through seven starts.
And this is not his first taste of success. He opened last year in the Dominican Republic summer league and went 6-1 with a 0.74 ERA in nine starts. He had two appearances in the Gulf Coast League and recorded 13 strikeouts and allowed just one run in nine innings, then finished the season by going 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA at rookie-league Williamsport. In 22 minor-league games, he is 8-1 with a 1.18 ERA.
"I'm a pitcher that gets a lot of swings and misses," Rosso said. "I can strike guys out."
No denying that. He is tied for the league lead with 52 strikeouts and has fanned 157 and walked just 37 in 114 1/3 professional innings. On Monday, he threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 23 batters he faced.
His fastball topped out at 93 and sat mostly between 90 and 92 mph, but it is a cutter with late movement. He also has a slider he can throw for strikes in any count. Rosso said his change-up is a work in progress.
"He has a big, loose motion, with a lot of moving parts that I think is deceptive," first-year Lakewood pitching coach Brad Bergesen said. "But he also does a great job of keeping everything in sync. He gets late natural cut with his fastball, and his slider plays well off that. It has been a great pitch for him."
Agostinelli said Phillies minor-league pitching coordinator Rafael Chaves has played a huge role in helping Rosso. And Rosso credited Alex Concepcion, his pitching coach in the Dominican Republic, with instilling confidence.
"He helped a little bit with my mechanics, but more than that, he just gave me confidence," Rosso said. "He gave me the confidence to throw breaking stuff in hitter's counts."
That confidence is obvious when Rosso is on the mound, and suddenly the Phillies have a prospect who they initially passed on.
"I'm sure they wish they had found him a long time ago, but so far for us, he has been an absolute bulldog," Lakewood manager Marty Malloy said. "When he's throwing that cutter, I'm glad I'm not a hitter. I don't worry about a whole lot when he's starting, because I know I'm getting a quality one."