Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 11

While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.

Countdown to Opening Day – 11 days

Last season, Jose Ramirez, chief resident of the number 11 on the current Cleveland Indians roster, became the second Tribe player to finish in the top three of the American League’s Most Valuable Player voting in the last four years, proving that his 2016 breakout effort was no fluke.

Ramirez – Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The results reaffirmed the Indians decision to lock up the young infielder on a five-year contract extension prior to the season at a cost of $26 million. The deal also includes a pair of team options for the 2022 and 2023 campaigns.

Playing at the age of 24 for most of the year, Ramirez was one of the league’s leading hitters throughout the season and took home a Silver Slugger award at year’s end for his contributions at the plate. But it was hardly his lone honor of the season, as he was also named the starting third baseman for the American League’s All-Star team midseason. Ramirez would match his career high with 152 games on the field for the Tribe. He slashed .318/.374/.583 for the year with a Major League leading 56 doubles (the only player to eclipse the half-century mark), which slotted in as the third-most ever hit in a single season by an Indians player (trailing only George Burns’ 64 in 1926 and Tris Speaker’s 59 in 1923). He hit more than two and a half times as many homers as he had in 2016, blasting 29 to go with a career-best 83 runs batted in.

Most of the offensive contributions from Ramirez were his best, including his slugging mark and OPS, hits, runs scored, doubles, triples, homers, RBI, and walks.

While there was some thought that Ramirez could return to his former home at second base for the 2018 season, the Indians held on to Jason Kipnis despite his name coming up in trade rumors over the winter. Ramirez’s presence at the hot corner will make it harder for Giovanny Urshela or Yandy Diaz to make the club out of the spring. Such is the cost of locking up some players at sizeable extensions, as Kipnis became difficult to move with a substantial amount of money owed to him over the course of the next two seasons.

After making a surprise 15-game debut in 2013, Ramirez struggled to stick in the Majors in the next two years, making his contributions over the past two seasons all the more impressive and significant. He hit .262 in 68 games in 2014 while spending a chunk of time at Triple-A Columbus, then had a similar path in 2015 when he played in 97 games for the Indians and hit .219 while also suiting up a bunch for the Clippers. He spent time at shortstop, keeping the seat warm prior to Francisco Lindor‘s big league debut, then became a man without a bona fide position on the roster, instead claiming a utility role until settling in at third base. While the spot might not be Ramirez’s calling, manager Terry Francona understood that the improved bat of Ramirez needed to be in the lineup and the third base position, manned temporarily in 2016 by Juan Uribe, was going to be his quickest path to every day at bats.

Ramirez – Jason Miller/Getty Images

Saying that the sky is the limit for Ramirez may be unfair, but with a pair of incredible efforts at the plate in 2016 and 2017, the switch-hitter is certainly one of the more important players in Francona’s lineup. He has been healthy and reliable, versatile enough to jump into other positions to buffer the losses of injured teammates, and he has flashed both speed and surprising pop from the middle of the lineup in the body of a top of the order hitter.

With two strong years under his belt, Ramirez will be tasked with providing others in the Indians lineup with protection. Whether slotted in somewhere in the top third of the order to drive in runs and set the table for the heart of the order, or hitting in the middle third with opportunities to knock in teammates with regularity, the Indians will need more big things from their little goat.

Other notable 11s in Tribe history (43 in total): Grover Hartley (the first in 1929), 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)

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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