We've been running through the 2014 season for each member of the Indians and key prospects from their farm system. (You can find every entry in the series here.) Now we've reached a countdown of the top ten players on the team, as voted by the Let's Go Tribe staff.
#8: Jose Ramirez
- Position: Shortstop/Second base
- Age: 22
- Acquired: Signed as an amateur free agent in 2009
- Contract status: Pre-arbitration in 2015 (~$500,000)
Ramirez had a great 2012, putting up big numbers in Single-A and High-A. That earned him a promotion to Double-A or 2013, where he struggled a bit early on, but put up fairly solid numbers, given that he was one of the youngest players in the Eastern League. He was called up in September, mostly to serve as a pinch runner and defensive replacement during the Tribe's push for one of the Wild Card spots. He shot up into the top ten on a lot of Indians prospect lists, and was sent to Triple-A for the start of 2014.
During April, Ramirez hit .319/.365/.484 for the Clippers, and when Jason Kipnis suffered a strained oblique, Ramirez was brought up to take his spot on the roster. He went just 2 for 25 over the next couple weeks, without a walk or an extra-base hit, and was sent back to Columbus. Once again he did well there, and near the end of July, with Asdrubal Cabrera on the verge of being traded away, Ramirez was called up again. Things would be different this time.
During what was left of the season, Ramirez appeared in 56 games and hit .283/.325/.377, with 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts. Mostly he started at shortstop, and his defense there graded out as well above average. Including the dreadful stretch in May, Ramirez's wRC+ was just 85, but that's passable for a shortstop who plays strong defense and runs the bases pretty well. Just looking at what he did during his second stint of the year with the Indians, his wRC+ was 102. League average hitting for a plus defender at shortstop can be enough to make one an All-Star.
Even hitting the way Ramirez did during the second half, he shouldn't be batting 2nd, which is where he was a number of times. In part because of his modest talents with the bat, he was asked to bunt far more frequently than a #2 hitter should. He managed to tie for the league lead with 13 sacrifices, setting an MLB record for the fewest plate appearances (266) by a player who led either league.
A switch-hitter, Ramirez did a bit better against lefties, but did well enough to merit playing time both ways, especially because you don't need to platoon a good fielder unless one of their splits is awful. His walk rate was a very poor 4.9%; finding a way to boost that to 8% would go a long way towards making him a dependable option for more than his glove.
2014 grade: B
Ramirez ought to be the Tribe's starting shortstop come Opening Day. There will be those who want to see Francisco Lindor there, but the Indians aren't going to blow a year of team control by bringing him up before mid April. If Ramirez starts the season the way he finished in 2014, it wouldn't surprise me to see Lindor stick in Triple-A til near the All-Star break. At some point though, where three weeks or three months into the season, Lindor is probably going to arrive in Cleveland. At that point, if others are healthy and reasonably productive, Ramirez probably moves into a "super-sub" role, starting once a week at SS, once a week at 2B, and being brought into a few other games late, either for defense or as a pinch runner.
There are worse things to have than a player with his skill set on the bench, and there are worse trading chips than a shortstop with a good glove who can provide something close to league average offense. Regardless of what role he ends up on, and whether he stays with the Indians or gets moved to fill another need, Ramirez's development over the last few years has been a big success for him and for the Indians.