Ramirez No Fluke as One of Top Players on the Indians

2017 was quite the season for Jose Ramirez.

After a breakout 2016 campaign, the jack-of-many-trades, position-wise, inked a lucrative contract extension with the Tribe in March. Just before the season, he signed up for a guaranteed five-year, $26 million pact with the Indians. It can become $50 million if team options are exercised in 2022 and 2023.

Some fans wondered if Ramirez was worth that kind of commitment from Cleveland after just one good season. This was a guy, after all, who seemed completely lost at the big league level in 2015 and was merely thought of as a future utility player before that. Was he truly as good as his out-of-nowhere 2016 numbers indicated? He set career highs with 11 home runs, 76 RBI, and a .312 batting average. Would he be destined to come back down to Earth with a crashing thud in 2017?

J-Ram did not let his good fortune end with his new-found fortune. Instead, he answered any and all critics of that contract extension by enjoying an MVP-caliber campaign. He finished third in that award voting, and with good reason. The player with diminutive size, at 5-foot-9, played like a giant. He earned his first trip to the All-Star Game, voted in as the American League’s starting third baseman. He was the first Cleveland player to earn a starting nod in the Midsummer Classic since Juan Gonzalez way back in 2001.

Ramirez put his 2016 numbers to shame last year. He belted 29 bombs, drove in 83, and hit .318. He added 17 stolen bases and was a finalist for a Gold Glove at third base, proving his status as a five-tool player. When Jason Kipnis got hurt in August, Ramirez seemlessly moved to second base and formed a lethal up-the-middle combination with star shortstop Francisco Lindor. The duo was so good that when Kip came back in late September, he was moved to center field for the rest of the regular season and the team’s short-lived postseason run. (Ramirez has also seen time at short and in the outfield during his short career, showing his versatility).

There was no question Ramirez was worthy of the MVP considerations that he received and was one of the more indispensable players on the Tribe roster. The contract that he signed in March looked like a win and a bargain for the Indians by the time the season was over. Any doubters about his worthiness of such riches are now few and far between.

Ramirez has now enjoyed two straight excellent seasons. He turned 25 in September, so he should really just now be on the verge of hitting his prime. It is quite possible Ramirez has not yet hit his ceiling and we could see even more from one of Cleveland’s most exciting young players.

All indications are Ramirez will go back to third base this year as Kipnis is expected to go back to second. Barring a spring training trade of Kipnis, which seems more and more unlikely, J-Ram will be back to the position that he played most of last season. He can certainly be a great defender, as he was last year, and should continue to be a steady presence at the plate. The lone question about Ramirez may be whether or not he can continue to produce the power numbers.

Ramirez hit for a high average during his minor league career, so the .300 batting average at the Major League level is not a huge shock. However, he was never a big-time home run or RBI guy until last year. Being a long-ball hitter was a new thing in 2017. That one aspect of his game is the one thing Ramirez may need to prove. Can he hit 20-plus taters again?

The guess here is he may have reached a crescendo when it comes to homers last season, which is fine. Even if he hits 15-20 homers, hits over .300, drives in 75, and maintains his speed on the bases and Gold Glove defense, he will remain in an elite class. The home runs do not define his overall game or talent.

So how can we expect a guy who had a breakout season in 2016 and a huge followup campaign in 2017 to perform in 2018? Probably right along the lines that he has been going. There is no reason to think we will ever again see the 2015 version of Ramirez. That was a player who was lost at the plate and had lost all confidence. He is not that player. He is also not 22, as he was at that time. It is easier for such a young player to lose confidence in tough times than a veteran who knows how to have success in the Majors, as J-Ram now does.

Ramirez enters 2018 as one of Cleveland’s core players and with some of the highest expectations on the club. There is little reason to think he will not, once again, be a key cog for a team with championship aspirations. He is one of those reasons for those aspirations, and that is no fluke.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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