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Countdown to Opening Day – 11
Which Jose Ramirez will the Cleveland Indians see in 2017?
Will it be Ramirez the third baseman, after filling that void on the field for the second half of last season for Cleveland? Will it be Ramirez the second baseman, helping to replace another injured player in Jason Kipnis as he did early last season in filling in for Michael Brantley? Will it be Ramirez the utility man, a role that he was expected to play in 2016 before the Tribe roster needed him in the lineup every day given his strong performance?
Two things feel almost certain – the addition of Edwin Encarnacion should prevent many sightings of Ramirez the cleanup hitter and that plenty of attention will be paid to how many times the hard charging Ramirez loses his batting helmet on the base paths.
Ramirez has gone from a question mark to one of the more intriguing players on the roster. His breakout campaign last season was perfectly timed as he was able to replace the production typically brought to the playing field by Brantley. While Ramirez may not have looked as comfortable in left field as Brantley has over his years in town, the Indians’ little 23-year-old switch-hitter looked as though he had learned a thing or two from watching Brantley over the course of his first three years in the league.
There was plenty of reason to be speculative about what Ramirez would be able to provide the Indians last season. He had just a brief cup of coffee when he was called up from Double-A Akron in the stretch run of the 2013 season and earned several trips back and forth between Cleveland and Columbus over the course of the 2014 season. A strong second half (.283/.325/.377) provided some promise, but again the following season, a rough start led to some trips back and forth to the state capital. He would again find himself some in the second half (.259/.337/.438), but he was no sure thing.
He looked to at least have the versatility to fill in for Mike Aviles, who left via free agency. The super utility man had played six positions for the Tribe in each of his final two years on the club’s bench and was set to make far more than Ramirez would make. But instead of filling that role for the team as expected, Ramirez plugged in any area of need that the Indians had. He carried a solid .313 effort with six doubles, four homers, and 13 RBI in spring on into the season and went on to do something he had not done in his first three years in the Majors – stay there.
With the exception of a slight cool down in June and July, Ramirez actually continued to get better and better as the season progressed. He slashed .295/.352/.417 in the first half with 21 doubles, a triple, four homers, and 38 RBI while stealing ten bases.
The incredible amount of extra base hits from Ramirez continued on into the second half as after hitting five doubles in July, he hit ten in August and 12 in September/October. He also had a surge of power in August, when five balls cleared the fences as part of a 41-hit, 21-run, 18-RBI month. He put up a .329/.374/.509 slash in the second half, ending with a .350 average for August and a .327 mark in the final month-plus of games.
Like several of his teammates, the spotlight of the postseason was not too much for the young player making his first appearances in the Major League playoffs. He went 5-for-10 against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series, hitting a double and drawing two walks while scoring four runs. He slumped in the ALCS versus the Toronto Blue Jays, getting just a single in 17 trips to the plate with a pair of strikeouts, but he came on strong in the World Series against the Chicago Cubs, going 9-for-29 (.310) with a double, a homer, and two runs batted in.
His doubles production for the season (46) landed him in the second spot on the AL leaderboard in two-baggers, trailing just David Ortiz. He also ended with the seventh-best average (.312), ninth-most stolen bases (22), and tenth-best on-base percentage (.363) in the league. He was the third-hardest player in the AL to strike out, averaging 9.1 at bats per K on the year. He even found his way onto the defensive leaderboard, as in his half-season at the hot corner, he posted the second-best fielding percentage among AL third basemen (.979).
This spring, it has been more of the same from the 5’9”, 180 lb. utility man. Through 14 games of action, he has hit .293 with a .333 OBP and .512 slugging with six doubles, a homer, and six RBI. The doubles account for half of his hits in camp.
Naturally much more of a middle infielder and especially a second baseman, Ramirez is a bit out of position in his current role as the Indians’ third baseman. But manager Terry Francona’s faith in Ramirez’s flexibility is on display now while the Tribe ponders how to replace Kipnis for the first month or so of the season while dealing with his agitated shoulder.
Ramirez saw the bulk of his minor league work at second, playing in 227 games there compared to 84 at short, 12 at third, and three in left field over parts of five years on the farm, so he has plenty of familiarity with the spot. Two-thirds of his appearances in the Dominican Winter League also came at the second base position.
Wherever Ramirez is on the diamond, last year proved that he belonged. With four years of MLB experience already under his belt and just 23 years old until mid-September, Ramirez’s worth to the club is extensive, regardless of which position or which lineup spot he sees his name inked in on for Francona.
Other notable 11’s in Indians history: Charlie Jamieson (1930), Frankie Pytlak (1932-36), Ben Chapman (1939-40), Frankie Hayes (1945-46), Art Houtteman (1953-57), John Romano (1960-62), Ted Uhlaender (1971), Dave Duncan (1973-74), Toby Harrah (1979-83), Doug Jones (1988-91), Paul Sorrento (1992-95), Matt Lawton (2002-04), Drew Stubbs (2013)
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