The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who is in a roster battle to earn one of the Tribe’s last spots on the Opening Day roster.
Jose Ramirez is not your average 21 year-old.
Instead of joining his peers in watching baseball games at bars, Ramirez can be found in the baseball stadium, on the field itself, experiencing the game from a completely different vantage point. Ramirez made his Major League debut last season at only 20 years old in early September, becoming the fourth-youngest player in the bigs.
Perhaps it was his age, perhaps it was the breath of fresh air he provided to the team, but Ramirez’s brief tenure with the big league club did not go unnoticed. Known for his speed and agility on the bases, Ramirez proved to be a valuable asset to the team in its final month, scoring five runs during that time.
He had four hits in 12 at bats during his 15-game stint with the Indians (for a .333 AVG), with two walks and two strikeouts. He made one official steal attempt, in which he was caught, and also had one error at third during his first start at the position. He was used seven times as a pinch runner and thrice as a pinch hitter.
Despite his strong showing in his first taste of Major League play, Ramirez is not guaranteed the opportunity to jump straight back into the big league role in 2014. He is young and spent his entire 2013 season in Double-A Akron before skipping straight over Triple-A Columbus to make his Major League debut. As an infielder, Ramirez spent the majority of his time at either shortstop or second base, with only eight appearances at third. The Indians have a strong second baseman in Jason Kipnis, and with Asdrubal Cabrera entering his final season before free agency, there’s a chance that his playing performances will improve throughout 2014. Even if he does not produce at the anticipated level, however, Francisco Lindor is obviously the prospect in place behind Cabrera at shortstop, isolating Ramirez from the role.
To prove his worth as a member of the Indians’ infield, it seems that Ramirez will most likely have to prove himself at third base. Terry Francona placed Ramirez at third on September 9, eight days after he made his Major League debut as a pinch runner on September 1. Despite the 9th resulting in his only fielding error of the season, Ramirez excelled during the evening, recording his first Major League hit in his first at bat of the night with an opposite-hit single to left.
The hit wasn’t all that worked for Ramirez.
Drew Stubbs followed Ramirez’s hit with a 3-2 grounder to third, and Ramirez took it upon himself to do the seemingly impossible – advance all the way to third on the play. Though the move appeared extremely risky, he managed to advance all the way home to score the game’s second run.
It’s determination and reckless abandon such as this that proves both Ramirez’s age and promise on the baseball field. Though it can be said that such actions are foolish and far too risky to complete, that fact that Ramirez does not himself be intimidated by such notions is a demonstration of the attitude he can bring to the team.
His skills are obviously there – he would not have been called up in September straight from Akron were he not a promising player – but his recklessness on the bases can be seen as both a positive and a deterrent for the young player. On the positive note, a player who is unafraid of the consequences of his actions can be a positive force for his team. He can jump into a situation without care for the result; can try to stretch a double into the much-sought-after triple. However, that sort of headstrong ambition can also lead to nerve-wracking situations for a team. A double may have no chance of being a triple and may lead to the third out in what could have been a major inning. An ineffective steal attempt could ruin a come-back attempt in the bottom of the ninth.
The infield has certain holes that Ramirez could be poised to fill should he demonstrate during spring training that he is, in fact, ready to jump into the Major League role. Third base is a giant question mark for the team, having been suggested to be played by anyone from Lonnie Chisenhall, who attempted to reassert himself as a difference maker during the Tribe’s brief post-season appearance in October, to Carlos Santana to periodic appearances by Mike Aviles. Ramirez doesn’t easily fit into this lineup, but that is not to say he has no chance of filling in at some point down the road.
Ramirez did suffer from an injury during his winter ball season in the Dominican Republic. In January, however, during the Indians Winter Development Program, he reported that his left thumb was feeling good and that he would be ready for Spring Training. Prior to his injury, Ramirez was hitting .287 with eight doubles, one triple, seven RBI, and 11 runs throughout 25 games. He is expected to be cleared to participate in exhibition games some time next week.
To make the Opening Day roster, Ramirez will have to prove that his injury is not sustained. He will have to prove that he is truly the kind of a player that the organization believes he can be. He will have to prove that skipping Triple-A ball was not a mistake and that there is no need for his to see the field in Columbus. However, it stands to reason that age, and the strength of other players invited to Major League camp, will have Ramirez fighting harder than he had to last season to obtain his roster spot come September.
It’s important for a player to have both the abilities and the know-how of when to use them. Ramirez has the potential to have both, and time and determination are going to be key in deciding when he returns to the Major League stage to make those qualities known.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer