At first glance, Jose Ramirez does not stand out as a potential breakout candidate for the Indians in 2014. I mean, it's literally difficult to stand out when you're 5'9. However, as is often the case, appearances can be deceiving. What the 21 year-old Dominican Republic native lacks in height, he more than makes up for in speed and raw ability. We caught a brief glimpse of his talents last season but I believe we can expect much more from him in 2014, as he takes the next step in his career.
Ramirez spent the majority of 2013 at the Double-A level in Akron and gave a pretty good account of himself, enough to earn a call-up to the big leagues in September. During his limited time with the Indians, Ramirez appeared in 15 games, often in a pinch-hitting or pinch-running situation. He had 14 plate appearances and 12 at-bats, collecting 4 hits and scoring 5 runs. My personal favorite highlight of his was this triple he clobbered against the White Sox on the 14th September:
That video just highlights his immense speed perfectly.
There are a few reasons why Ramirez figures to become an important player for the Indians in the near future. First and foremost, his versatility in the infield is paramount. Ramirez has the skills to play all around the diamond, with the range to play shortstop, and the arm to play third. Jose split the majority of his time in Akron between second base and shortstop (53 games at second, 50 games at short). At the major league level Ramirez saw action at both of those positions, and at third base as well.
Now let's play the situation game for a moment. Let's imagine injuries take their toll next season, as they are wont to do. God forbid, Jason Kipnis gets hurt for an extended period of time. The natural choice to fill the void is current utility man Mike Aviles. But who takes his empty spot on the bench? Jose Ramirez would fit in nicely don't you think? Imagine if Asdrubal Cabrera gets traded between now and the All Star Break and hot prospect Francisco Lindor isn't quite ready to fill those shoes just yet. Again, Aviles can slot right in at shortstop in Cabrera's absence but Ramirez would be in that discussion certainly, taking Aviles' place on the bench at the very least. You could play this game at third base as well and, surprise surprise, Ramirez could handle significant playing time there as well. He has the ability to fill in wherever the need arises.
Ramirez's versatility will hold him in good stead, but there's something else that makes him stand apart from his competitors: His incredible speed, easily his best tool. He's so quick he merits a place on the team as a pinch-runner alone. Jose stole 38 bases at Akron in 2013 and projects as a threatening presence on the base-paths at the major league level too. Ramirez does need to work on his efficiency (he was caught 16 times in Akron) but that should come with age and experience. The ability is there.
However events play out this year, a place on the Indians' bench is certainly where Ramirez's immediate future lies. With the Goon Squad now short a member (Yan Gomes doesn't qualify anymore since he's been made the starting catcher), there's a vacancy ready to be filled and I believe Ramirez has the potential to be that man.
He faces stiff competition though, as there are a vast number of players vying for a spot on the 25 man roster. Aviles, Ryan Raburn and David Murphy are ensured their places on the team but Jason Giambi, David Adams and David Cooper will all push hard for a spot during Spring Training. Ramirez faces even more competition for his place from the spring invitees like Nyjer Morgan and Jeff Francoeur.
The dream situation for Ramirez would be to break camp with the Indians and be included on the Opening Day roster, but he may start the year at Triple-A for a bit more seasoning. However, I'm certain we won't have to wait until September to see him again. In 2014, Ramirez should become a key contributor off the bench and play a significant part in the Indians' push for another postseason berth.