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Cleveland Indians: Jose Ramirez is beginning to flourish in super utility role

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Jose Ramirez has pulled Indians fans all type of ways, but patience is paying off.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

This time a year ago, Jose Ramirez was acting as one-half of the scapegoat to blame the hideous start the Cleveland Indians got off to, kindly sharing duties with Lonnie Chisenhall. Ramirez would hit .175/.221/.235 in the month of April and wouldn’t do much better in May, destroying the goodwill he earned after a rather excellent stint in 2014. He was supposed to be the come out of nowhere Asdrubal Cabrera type with an added glove, and instead he stunk and ended up in Triple-A by June.

Ramirez's struggles did lead to Francisco Lindor so we can’t be too mad, and Giovanny Urshela gave us a chance to get worked up over an unheralded prospect as well. Now, though, Ramirez is the super utility that Terry Francona always loves to play with all over the diamond, a poor man’s Ben Zobrist for the Indians to plug and play wherever he’s needed. It’s amazing to see his growth from just a year ago. The best part is, and if it’s not a ruse, he’s far from done.

So far this year Ramirez is hitting .310/.347/.437, good for a 122 wRC+. For reference, that’s about where Carlos Santana sits in a few dozen more at-bats. That’s not to knock Santana, he’s been excellent this year as far as I can tell, it’s more a bit of a preach to the nascent Church of Ramirez. That guy needs a nickname by the way. But really, he’s been very good, especially considering he hasn’t been getting consistent plate time with not having a consistent position to play.

His lack of consistent time at third in particular bugs me a bit. The Indians did pay actual millions of dollars to bring in Juan Uribe, but it’s not as though he’s hitting, and it’s not like Ramirez hasn’t comported himself well in the infield. The only reason he lasted as long has he did in the majors early last year, and the reason he got people so excited to end 2014, was because he could really snag the ball. You might think it’s just a platoon thing, and Uribe does have a reverse split going on this year and hits righties a bit better than Ramirez, an 114 wRC+ this year compared to Ramirez’s 72. But it’s not like it extends any length of time into the past, Uribe is a career below average hitter, a career 87 wRC+ with no real split between lefties and righties in that. It’s a sample size thing, nothing more. Ramirez came in late in a game in the Royals series as a defensive replacement for Uribe too, so it’s plainly not the glove. Is it just money? Is it so Uribe stays happy and stays being a good clubhouse chemist? These are the curiosities of Francona’s choices.

It could be just that Ramirez’s versatility is what gives Uribe a consistent job. On days when Jason Kipnis needs a day off, slot in Ramirez. He’s seen some time in left field before Brantley came back, and will likely keep starting there a few more times a month. He’s comported himself well there so it’s not like it’s a terror dome or anything when he’s filling in. And of course the third base thing, perhaps a fill-in thing at shortstop too if Lindor ever got tired. If that happened, though, the world might end because that boy is a dynamo. But the option is there. Versatility in the modern MLB game is a rich resource.

As to that hitting, Ramirez has been somewhat lucky so far this year. His BABIP is .333, some 30 points higher than his career average. When he was doing well two years ago it was .303, and last year during that misery that number was .232, so it’s not like we’ve been given strong numbers here. Even in the second half of the year when he got a second chance, the BABIP was .261 compared to .200 when he was struggling. Both bad, but he did improve.

So while maybe his head wasn’t in the game to open the year or whatever it was, or the ball just wasn’t dropping. That second half is so important for the team’s hopes for Ramirez though. It’s a better reflection of what we can expect. Since August 7th of a year ago, he’s packing an 117 wRC+ and walking slightly more, 8.9 percent of the time, than he is striking out at 8.6 percent. That includes a .283 BABIP over a stretch of a more confidently sampleable 257 plate appearances. BABIP doesn’t really normalize until somewhere around 800 PA’s, and it’s not all gospel anyway, but it does give an idea. By combining this nice start with that consistently solid stretch starting last August, that Ramirez gave evidence he can be an offensive positive if given a chance.

Further building on that is how he did in Triple-A. While minors numbers aren’t always a definite portent and are sometimes a dirty lie, seeing that Ramirez (as a 21- and 22-year-old, mind you) hit .298/.358/.427 with a 42 to 39 BB/K ratio over 104 games in two years is encouraging. He hit his way on to the team in 2014 along with that glove, then after being cast back to the minors in 2015 he rallied and kept it going. I’m not going to draw too many conclusions from just this, but hey, he’s putting up a similar line this year and over the last several months dating back to last year. Maybe he’s a real player.

Down the line, like two or so years as long as he keeps this offensive stew cooking, I expect Ramirez to take over Jason Kipnis at second. Perhaps Kipnis is moved to left as Brantley becomes DH and Santana’s contract ends, and everything makes sense. Ramirez would only be 25, maybe still growing into double digit power, and could be a fine second baseman for years to come and turn many a double play with Lindor. It could all go south of course, and all this hitting .300 and flying helmets could be a ruse propping up a middling at best hitter. But that’s what’s fun about him. He’s shown a spark of promise. That’s all I need to get my hype train running.