Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 11: Jose Ramirez
Danny Madden | On 24, Mar 2016
As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 11 days
If there is one type of player that Terry Francona loves, it’s a guy that can play a bunch of positions. As we’ve seen the last two years with Mike Aviles, Francona would put him at pretty much any position…even at places he probably shouldn’t have been (center field).
Nonetheless, if you are able to play more than one position, you’re probably on the Indians’ radar. If you’re able to play more than one position, provide plus defense at those positions, provide solid offense, and be under the age of 25, then your name is probably Jose Ramirez.
Ramirez, 23, was signed by the Indians as an amateur free agent back in 2009 at the age of 16. Ramirez debuted in the Indians system in 2011 in the Arizona Rookie League. He spent two and a half more years in the minors before he made his debut in 2013. He then went on to put up some impressive numbers in 15 games. He hit .333/.429/.500 with a triple and five runs scored in 12 at bats. While a small sample size, it was impressive for the young infielder making the jump from Double-A Akron.
While starting the season in 2014 at Triple-A Columbus, Ramirez spent plenty of time in Cleveland. He played in 68 games with the big league club, getting most of his time in the second half of the season after the departure of long time incumbent Asdrubal Cabrera. In those 68 games, Ramirez hit .262/.300/.346 with ten doubles, two triples, two home runs, 27 RBI and ten stolen bases. He also had a wRC+ of 83 and posted a DRS of four at shortstop. This small sample size seemed to be strong enough that the Indians were able to put faith in him going into 2015. They decided to hand over the reins of shortstop to Ramirez to act as a stopgap until top prospect, and now rookie phenom Francisco Lindor, was ready to take over the position.
A lot of how Ramirez performed in the beginning of 2015 may have been because of all the pressure that was put on to him before the season even started. He knew that he was not going to stick with the big league club as their everyday shortstop. Even if you didn’t pay attention to the Indians, you knew that this was the case. He may have been pressing a little too hard to show Francona that he is valuable to the team. With how hard he was pressing, his performance took a significant nose dive before he was inevitably sent back to Columbus to clear his head. In his first 45 games with the club, he batted a mere .176 with six doubles and one home run, which came in the opening series against the Houston Astros. He also only stole eight bases, which was odd for Ramirez, who is well known for his speed and athletic abilities.
The most concerning factor of his first half was how much his defense tailed off at shortstop. He’s well known to be a fantastic defensive second basemen and he showed some significant range at short in 2014. He managed to post a -2 DRS at short last year. Once he was sent down to Triple-A, he spent that time clearing his head and working his way to being comfortable at the plate again. He spent 44 games at Triple-A before he was called back up to Cleveland to stick around for the remainder of the season.
After making his way back to Cleveland, Ramirez went on to put up a wRC+ of 114 and was able to jog out three triples, two stolen bases, and smack five home runs in 47 games. It may have been that Ramirez just was not comfortable as an everyday shortstop and took more comfort in just being able to either come off the bench and play or to move around the diamond and play wherever Francona needed him.
That’s kind of the role that he’s going to fill in 2016.
Some players are lucky enough that they can contribute at almost every position on the field, like Aviles and Ben Zobrist. Ramirez fills that role swimmingly. With the departure of Aviles, Ramirez hopes to be Francona’s super utility guy. Unlike Aviles, Ramirez can actually contribute at nearly every position and not just with defense, but with his bat as well. Going through the minors, Ramirez skyrocketed through each level and it’s all because of his high baseball IQ. It’s well known that he brings a type of “swagger” to the field, and he can back that up by showing off his skills at the plate. It’s a type of spark that a team needs to have to keep things light and interesting throughout the long season.
Ramirez is going to be expected to provide a lot for this team in 2016. Francona loves his utility guys, and so he’ll play Ramirez as many times as he can, in as many positions as he can. The beauty of Ramirez is that he’s so young, and we still don’t know exactly what we can expect out of his bat. We know what he brings defensively, but his bat is still a question. As a career .304/.355/.411 hitter in the minors, what we’ve seen so far in the majors is far from what we should be expecting. He doesn’t provide a whole lot of power, but he has the ability to turn singles into doubles, and doubles into triples. Even when he’s on base, he’s always a threat to steal, and can disrupt the pitcher.
From what we’ve seen from Ramirez this spring, this may be the year that he breaks out with the club. Through Tuesday, Ramirez is hitting .381/.413/.762 with four home runs, four doubles, two stolen bases and eleven RBI. It’s tough to bank on what is seen in spring training, but this is a good start to the season and a refreshing take. Most of the outfielders that the Tribe has brought in this spring have not been performing optimally, like Joey Butler, Collin Cowgill, Shane Robinson and Will Venable, which can create more opportunities for Ramirez in the outfield. The Indians did just recently bring in veteran Marlon Byrd, who could theoretically make the club, even with only two weeks of spring training under his belt. If he does, then Ramirez could be spending more time in the infield as a replacement player for guys like Jason Kipnis and Juan Uribe when they either need days off or need a day at DH.
It’s going to be critical going forward for Ramirez to perform for the Tribe. As has been seen over the last three years, Kipnis tends to tail off towards the second half of the season. Whether it’s poor conditioning in the offseason, or just not pacing himself throughout the season, Kipnis needs to protect his body more often during the season. Ramirez can help with that. With how great of a defender Ramirez is at second base, he can easily slide into the position once or twice a week to give Kipnis a day off in the field. This would increase the defense at second base while also protecting one of the Indians’ most important players by playing him at designated hitter for a game. This is just one of the many tools that Ramirez can bring to the team, and it’s part of what makes him so valuable.
There are just so many good things that can be said about Ramirez and he’s certainly earned his way on to this team. He could be an everyday player on most teams in the MLB and Cleveland is able to utilize him from its bench. He has the ability to contribute in almost every game and there is a good chance that he might, whether it’s to start, pinch run, or be a defense replacement.
Ramirez can pretty much do it all, and we might be witnessing the emergence of JRam in 2016.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images